Calling all seafood lovers. OK - not all seafood lovers - just those of you who love a nice, briny oyster on the half shell. There was once a time, way back in colonial times, when wild oysters were plentiful. Captain John Smith said they lay thick as stones. But as the wild oyster harvest has shrunk, the market for farm-raised oysters is booming. Here's WEEKEND EDITION food commentator Bonny Wolf.

BONNY WOLF, BYLINE: The local food movement is expanding from fertile fields to brackish waters. Along the rivers and bays of the East Coast, where wild oysters have been decimated by man and nature, harvests of farm-raised oysters are increasing by double digits every year. At the same time, raw oyster bars are all the rage. Shore Gregory of Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Mass. says when his oysters first went to market in 2001, just five Boston restaurants served oysters. Island Creek now works with 70 local restaurants and 300 chefs around the country. His company began with harvests of 50,000 oysters. Today, it's closer to five million. When Travis Croxton and his cousin Ryan started Rappahannock River Oysters in Virginia 10 years ago, there were only a couple of farms in Virginia and Maryland. Now, he says, close to 300. Tim Devine had been a successful photographer in New York for 11 years when he returned home to Maryland's Eastern Shore last spring to start Barren Island Oysters. Like the Croxtons, he learned the business from the Internet. Even with the Internet, they learning curve can be steep. So, some of the new oystermen hire veteran watermen to teach them. Many of these old salts remember better days in the oyster fields.

When wild oysters were plentiful and cheap, they were a poor man's food. Modern farm-raised oysters are for upscale eaters. They have catchy names and clever marketing. Consumers discuss the merroir of different oysters - the water conditions that determine an oyster's flavor. Like wine connoisseurs, oyster enthusiasts talk about an oyster's mild finish, hints of copper, pleasant melon flavor. What happened to briny? Oyster entrepreneurs are confident that they're tapping into demand that's been unmet since oysters' glory days, when reefs were actually a danger to ships and oysters were a staple food. They also know they are helping the environment since oysters are one of nature's best water filters. They wish each other well. A rising tide lifts all oyster boats.


FATS WALLER: (Singing) You're not the only oyster in stew...

MARTIN: Bonny Wolf is managing editor of American Food Roots.


WALLER: (Singing) the sea. However, I'm convinced...

MARTIN: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from