Re-discovering the Knysna Oyster

“But I thought the Oyster farms had closed down,” said the old Knysna hand. “Don’t all our oysters come from PE?”

I was having my morning espresso at the usual spot, and I’d been boasting that I was about to go out onto the water for a tour of the oyster beds with Knysna Charters.

“It’s a reaction we hear over and over again, but the truth is that while Port Elizabeth is an important supplier, the Knysna Oyster Company is still actively farming about 6 hectares of the Knysna Lagoon,” said Knysna Charters’ Brad Cable.

The company offers daily boat tours to the beds at low tide. And, as I discovered, it’s a tour that’s really all about stories.

“What we’re doing is telling the history of the Knysna Oyster Company, but we’re also telling the stories of the people behind the oysters - from the old Dutch farmer who spent nearly thirty years experimenting with oyster farming in the Lagoon before finally succeeding in the mid ‘70s, to the Sedgefield family who own the concession to harvest wild oysters along our coast,” said Brad.

Even our pilot - Zamile ‘James’ Hiti - and our guide - Sebenzile ‘Warren’ Lansatyi - have their stories.

“We were both skippers on the fishing boats that used to go out through the Knysna Heads, but when the new laws came in in 2006 it became unprofitable for many of the owners to run their boats - and we were laid off,” said Warren.

“That’s when we came to work on the oyster tour.”

The result is an engaging, hour-and-a-half-long look at life on an oyster farm.

We met at the company’s jetty (directly behind 34 Tapas, and across the way from the new Turbine boutique hotel in Thesen Harbour Town), and boarded a comfortable cruiser for a gentle ride westwards - upstream - to the railway bridge and the farm itself. As an avid bird watcher, I spotted herons, African black oystercatchers, and pied kingfishers as we sailed, but the talk on the boat was all about oysters.

The difference between cultivated or Pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas) and wild or common rock oysters (Crassostrea margaritacea); the use of the intertidal rack system (which allows the bivalves to feed by filtering the water at high tide, and to bask in the sun at low tide); and whether or not it’s better to enjoy your oysters au natural, or splashed with a drop or two of our local mampoer-based Nyati jjj Strawberry Chili liqueur.

Of course we had the opportunity to taste both kinds of oyster, and the boat was stocked with snacks and drinks (all included in the cost of the tour). And then there was the fun of shucking - or opening - the shells: we all donned thick welding gloves to protect our hands, and tried our best to pop the shells as cleanly, and naturally as James and Warren.

Good thing we had the gloves (although they didn’t protect us from the terrible - but inevitable - puns: “we’re having a shucking good time!”).

At the racks, James tied the boat to a pole in the water, and those of us who didn’t mind getting our feet wet (it’s only about knee-deep at this point) climbed out to examine the oysters in their mesh bags on the racks.

“They have to be shaken and moved at least once a month or they start to grow onto one another, and then you’ll never separate them,” said Warren.

Back on board, Brad explained that the company offers three different tours: a lagoon cruise to the Knysna Heads; the oyster bed tour; and a 2-hour-long sunset cruise that includes snack platters, drinks, and an introductory tasting of three oysters. “After which, you can always buy more…”

As we glided gently downstream with the town of Knysna on our port side, the Yacht Club, the Waterfront, and the forest of masts along the shore reminded me that very little has changed: Knysna is still very much a harbour town.

And, like its oysters, is still very much here.

Oysters Male or Female

There is no way of telling male oysters from females by examining their shells. While oysters have separate sexes, they may change sex one or more times during their life span. The gonads, organs responsible for producing both eggs and sperm, surround the digestive organs and are made up of sex cells, branching tubules and connective tissue.

How do pearls end up inside of oysters?

An oyster produces a pearl when foreign material becomes trapped inside the shell. The oyster responds to the irritation by producing nacre, a combination of calcium and protein. The nacre coats the foreign material and over time produces a pearl.

The "R" Myth

Folklore says that oysters should be eaten only in months with "r's" in them—September, October, etc. Maestro S.V.P. educates people that oysters can be eaten 12 months a year. The notion that oysters should not be eaten in "r"-less months—that is, months that occur during warm weather—may have started in the days when oysters where shipped without adequate refrigeration and could spoil. But today all that has changed and we can enjoy oysters twelve months a year.

Oysters and Their Nutritional Value

Oysters are not only delicious, but they're also one of the most nutritionally well balanced of foods, containing protein, carbohydrates and lipids. The National Heart and Lung Institute suggest oysters as an ideal food for inclusion in low-cholesterol diets. Oysters are an excellent source of vitamins A, B1(thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), C (ascorbic acid) and D (calciferol). Four or five medium size oysters supply the recommended daily allowance of iron, copper, iodine, magnesium, calcium, zinc, manganese and phosphorus.

Oysters appeal to the busy homemaker because of their flavor and ease of digestibility. And there’s no waste, they are 100% edible. They also contain carbohydrates, which are generally lacking inmost of other flesh foods.


There are several species of oysters cultivated in North America. The two most common species in this area are the Pacific, originally from Japan, and transplanted here and the Olympia


How do oysters breath?

Oysters breathe much like fish, using both gills and mantle. The mantle is lined with many small, thin-walled blood vessels which extract oxygen from the water and expel carbon dioxide. A small, three chambered heart, lying under the abductor muscle, pumps colorless blood, with its supply or oxygen, to all parts of the body. At the same time a pair of kidneys located on the underside of the muscle purify the blood of any waste products it has collected.

Are Oysters Male or Female?

There is no way of telling male oysters from females by examining their shells. While oysters have separate sexes, they may change sex one or more times during their life span. The gonads, organs responsible for producing both eggs and sperm, surround the digestive organs and are made up of sex cells, branching tubules and connective tissue.

What is that tiny crab we see in the oyster?

It is a species of crab (Pinnotheres ostreum) that has evolved to live harmoniously inside an oyster’s shell. These dime-sized crabs, much sought after by gourmands, are not abundant.

How do pearls get inside an oyster?

An oyster produces a pearl when foreign material becomes trapped inside the shell. The oyster responds to the irritation by producing more, a combination of calcium and protein. The nacre coats the foreign material and over time produces a pearl.

Oysters: eight facts

1. Oysters have been eaten in Britain since at least Roman times, with archeologists suggesting they were a key dish in prehistoric times.

2. It is a myth that oysters are only safe to eat in months with the letter ‘r’, but an Act of Parliament does protect harvesting of oysters during the May to August spawning season.

3. Oysters change sex many times during their lifetime.

4. You are highly unlikely to ever find a pearl in an oyster. Pearl oysters are a different breed than the edible variety.

5. Oysters are "filter feeders,” filtering out food particles from the water surrounding them. An adult oyster can filter 60 gallons of seawater in one day. As a result, oysters can store up a variety of viruses inside their shells, the most common of which is the norovirus, which can cause gastroenteritis.

6. Edible oysters should go through a process of 'depuration' before they are sold. This involves plunging them into a tank of clean seawater and leaving for some time. This should remove most sewage contaminants.

7. The Food Standards Agency warns that even if oysters have been thoroughly cleansed by this process it is impossible to be completely sure they are free from virus if eaten raw.

8. Oysters used to be a staple working class dish during much of the 18th and 19th Centuries. Now, a dozen Fines de Claire oysters, considered the finest, at the Wolseley restaurant in London will cost you £24.50.

Romantic mysticism or fact behind the fiction?

Oysters have been a favorite of food lovers and romantics throughout the centuries. The oyster has maintained a timeless mystique when it comes to passion. When Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, sprang forth from the sea on an oyster shell and promptly gave birth to Eros, the word "aphrodisiac" was born. Roman emperors literally paid for them by their weight in gold. The dashing lover Casanova also started his evening meal by eating dozens of oysters.

The oyster's own love life is an interesting one. A single oyster can incubate up to one million larvae and may do so more than once a year. Some oysters repeatedly change their gender from male to female and back again, giving rise to claims that the oyster lets one experience both the masculine and feminine sides of love.

It's a long-standing belief that eating oysters, especially raw, will increase your libido. Is there fact behind the fiction? Oysters may have gained their reputation at a time when their contribution of vitamins and minerals to nutritionally deficient diets of the day could improve overall health, and so led to an increased sex drive.

Oysters do contain dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps to govern brain activity and influence sexual desire in men and women. The passions produced from raw oysters, some have suggested, is linked to high levels of zinc and complex sugars and proteins.

Like all shellfish, oysters contain a variety of vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. Romance aside, oysters can contribute to a healthy, balanced diet. Like all shellfish, oysters are low in calories and saturated fats, and are also excellent sources of protein and contain omega-3 fatty acids. Like fish, shellfish contribute to health by providing essential minerals and vitamins such as iron, zinc, copper and vitamin B 12.

When are oysters available in South Africa?

South Africans can enjoy fresh oysters twelve months of the year. Oyster aquaculture, or farming, complements the supply of fresh oysters at your local seafood counter when wild, commercially-harvested oysters are not available. Oysters are generally harvested at the time of year when they are in peak condition, when their meat is at their "fattest". Oysters need a period in the spring to recuperate from the winter before they reach a condition ideal for the retail market. Also, oysters spawn in the summer, which can alter their flavour and texture. Oysters are best eaten when they are not feeling frisky.

Oysters can also be harvested recreationally. It is a great way to get some fresh air, exercise and spend quality time with friends and family while enjoying South Africa's beautiful coastal areas. Permits are available from the local SANParks Office.

How do I Choose, Purchase, Store and Prepare Oysters?

However they are prepared, oysters are popular for their delicate, nutty flavour and briny tang. However, the secret to divine-tasting oysters is simplicity itself. Enjoy them raw on the half shell with a squeeze of lemon juice, a bit of wine vinegar or a few drops of Tabasco sauce or chilled vodka. They are also excellent poached in their own juice, fried in batter, baked or turned into a soup. Consult your favourite cookbook, on-line recipe search engine, seafood retailer or local newspaper's food/lifestyles section for recipe and preparation tips.

Tips for shucking and eating an oyster

Opening an oyster requires some practice. It is recommended that you use an oyster knife, which has a strong, thick blade designed specifically for opening the shells.

* Scrub the whole oyster clean with a brush under cold running water.

* For protection, place a folded kitchen towel in the palm of your hand. Holding an oyster with the cupped side facing down, use the knife to pry into the oyster's hinge (bottom, middle).

* Twist the knife to pop off the top shell.

* Gently slide knife along the inside of the top shell to loosen the flesh from the shell. Remove the top shell.

* Run the knife under the flesh of the oyster meat to detach it from the bottom shell. Prepare as desired.

To eat a raw oyster on the half-shell:

Pick up the bottom shell, taking care not to spill the oyster liquid. Bring the broad end to your lips, tip the shell, tilt your head back and let it slide in.

Tip: Take time to chew. Anecdotal evidence suggests that chewing helps to release the "romantic" qualities of the oyster into the body quicker.

10 Interesting Facts About Oysters:

Oysters are mollusks that grow mainly in the ocean. There are more than fifty species of oysters, some of which are edible. Their rather rectangle shells are made of calcium. The shells protect their soft bodies. Here are 10 interesting facts about oysters you probably don't know!

1. Oysters Are Tastier During Months That Contain "R"

Long ago, people were advised never to eat oysters during months of the year that didn't contain the letter "r". For one reason, the lack of proper refrigeration methods didn't keep oysters well in the warmer weather months- May through August. Also, the meat of the oyster tends to become thicker when the water temperatures cool down in the fall of the year. But, oysters can be, and are, enjoyed twelve months of the year.

2. Oyster Consumption

Another interesting fact about oysters is that nearly two billion pounds of these mollusks are eaten every year, and Americans eat their fair share. From 1990 to 1995, for example, Americans ate about fifty million pounds of these popular mollusks.

3. Is It a Male or Female Oyster?

Just like warm-blooded animals, oysters are either male or female. But, oysters have gonads that generate eggs, as well as sperm. So, oysters have the ability to change their sexes, which they do, at least once. (The gonads, by the way, are considered to be the tastiest part of the oyster.)

4. Oysters Are Healthy for You!

Oysters contain a whole raft of Vitamins, including C, D, B1, B1, B2 and B3. In terms of valuable minerals, if you eat just four medium-size oysters every day, you'll get the recommended daily allowances of calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc. Isn't that an interesting fact?

5. How to Tell If An Oyster is Alive

Whether you dig them up, buy them at a local seafood store or order them through the mail, there's one sure way to tell if an oyster is alive. If its shell is open, you tap on it with your fingers, and it snap shut, then it's alive.

6. Oysters Breathe Like Fish

Oysters contain both gills and mantle in order for them to breathe. As the water passes through them, the oxygen is removed and the carbon monoxide is discarded. Oysters also have stomachs, intestines, and they have hearts that pump a clear blood, along with the oxygen, through their bodies. And, their kidneys clean impurities from their blood.

7. Oysters Produce Very Few Pearls Naturally

Another interesting fact about oysters- According to www.ask.yahoo.com, "only one out of 10,000 animals will produce a pearl in the wild." Most of the pearls that are created by these mollusks begin with human intervention. Pieces of shells or beads are inserted inside an oyster. And the natural process goes from there. The oyster covers the foreign substance with layers of calcium and protein. In time, a pearl is produced.

8. Oysters Are What They Eat

This kind of mollusk feeds on plankton, animal waste, decayed plants- most any small particles they suck in. Oysters can filter up to five liters of water each hour. What's most interesting about this is, that the color of an oysters' meat depends on what they eat. Usually, the meat is light beige, light gray or off white. Oyster connoisseurs take great pleasure in figuring out what regions the oysters they are eating came from, just by their taste.

9. Oysters Can Be Eaten in a Variety of Ways

Some people prefer to eat oysters in their raw state. Because they can contain harmful bacteria, people who have low immunity systems, cancer or chronic liver disease shouldn't eat raw oysters. But, these mollusks can be eaten other ways. Oysters can be roasted, steamed, fried, scalloped, stewed, baked, stuffed, boiled, marinated, poached and sautéed.

10. Can Oysters Enhance Your Love Life?

The ancient Romans prized oysters for being aphrodisiacs. The 18th-century lover Casanova, in particular, is said to have eaten fifty oysters for breakfast every morning to make him virile. An interesting fact about oysters is they do contain a lot of zinc. This mineral- or rather, a deficiency of it- has been linked to male impotency. However, there isn't any scientific data to uphold Casanova's belief.

# The oyster can clean the water it lives on! The oyster feeds by pumping through its body and filtering out its food (mostly algae and detritus—decaying plant and animal matter). A healthy market-size (3 inches or larger) oyster can filter 50 or more gallons of water a day.

# At one time, oysters were the #1 fishery product in the United States.

# Oysters can change gender. Usually, they are male first, turning female as they grow older. If they are bigger than 3 inches, they are probably female.

# There ar more than 400 species of oysters around the world. The ones we catch in the Delaware Bay and along most of the East and Gulf Coasts are Easter or American oysters, Crassostrea virginica.

# The world record for eating oysters, according to Guiness, is held by Tommy "Muskrat" Greene of Deale, MD, who ate 288 oysters (24 dozen, or six pounds of meat) in 1 minute, 33 seconds.

# Yes, you can find pearls in the local oysters. However, they will probably be small, irregular, and not worth any money.

# Only one oyster spat in 1,145,000 survives to adulthood.

# Oysters have been farmed since ancient Roman times. Native Americans ate them 6,000-8,000 years ago, often smoking them over their campfires.

# Oysters bioaccumulate gold, mercury, lead, arsenic, and other toxic metals from the water.

Oysters usually mature by age one. They are protandric, which means that in the first year they spawn as males, but as they grow larger and develop more energy reserves in the next two to three years, they spawn as females.

An increase in water temperatures triggers the male oyster to release sperm and the female to release eggs into the water. This triggers a chain reaction of spawning which clouds the water with millions of eggs and sperm. A single female oyster produces 10 to 100 million eggs annually. The eggs are fertilized in the water and soon develop into larvae, or veligers, which are drawn to the chemicals released by older oysters on the bottom. Oysters need to settle in a suitable spot, such as another oyster’s shell. Juvenile attached oysters are called “spat.”

An oyster orients itself with the flared edge of its shell tilted upward. The left valve is cupped, while the right valve is flat. The shell opens periodically to permit the oyster to feed on plankton.

# Oysters have two shells (hence the oyster is a bivalve) which are generally grey in color.

# The shells are often much darker in spots due to algae and other encrusting organisms.

# The shells fit tightly together, forming a water tight seal when fully closed.

# As it grows the shell forms many bumps, ridges and striations.

# How each oyster will look is based greatly on where it has set and what the environmental conditions are.

Fun Facts:

* Oysters have been around for 15 million years and in some places their shell deposits are 50 feet thick.

* Many people like to eat oysters. For that reason, they are a very important seafood resource for the Chesapeake Bay.

* Oyster beds or reefs form a suitable habitat for other living creatures.

* Oysters at one time were very plentiful. However, over the years oyster diseases, MSX and Dermo have killed many of them.

* In the mid to late 1800’s conflicts between oystermen who used different gear types and between those in Maryland and Virginia, escalated to deadly levels in a time known as the Oyster Wars.

* In 1868, Maryland formed the Oyster Navy to police the waters of the State to try and enforce oystering regulations and help deter the violence.

* The city of Crisfield is built on a foundation of oyster shells.

Anatomy of Oysters:

Oysters are filter feeders, drawing water in over their gills through the beating of cilia. Suspended plankton and particles are trapped in the mucus of a gill, and from there are transported to the mouth, where they are eaten, digested and expelled as faeces or pseudofaeces. Oysters feed most actively at temperatures above 10 °C (50 °F). An oyster can filter up to 5 litres (1.3 US gal) of water per hour. Chesapeake Bay's once flourishing oyster population historically filtered excess nutrients from the estuary's entire water volume every three to four days. Today that would take nearly a year.[6] Excess sediment, nutrients, and algae can result in the eutrophication of a body of water. Oyster filtration can mitigate these pollutants.

  • Oysters feed by extracting algae and other food particles from the water they are almost constantly drawing over their gills. They reproduce when the water warms by broadcast spawning, and will change gender once or more during their lifetime.

In addition to their gills, oysters can also exchange gases across their mantle, which is lined with many small, thin-walled blood vessels. A small, three-chambered heart, lying under the adductor muscle, pumps colorless blood to all parts of the body. At the same time, two kidneys, located on the underside of the muscle, remove waste products from the blood.

While some oysters have two sexes (European Oyster & Olympia Oyster), their reproductive organs contain both eggs and sperm. Because of this, it is technically possible for an oyster to fertilize its own egg. The gonads surround the digestive organs, and are made up of sex cells, branching tubules and connective tissue. Once the female is fertilized, they discharge millions of eggs into the water. The larvae develop in about six hours and swim around for about two to three weeks. After that, they settle on a bed and mature within a year.

Habitat and behaviour of Oysters:

A group of oysters is commonly called a bed or oyster reef. The largest oyster-producing body of water is located in Chesapeake Bay, although these beds are starting to lower in numbers due to overfishing and pollution. Large beds of edible oysters are also found in Japan and Australia. As a keystone species, oysters provide habitat for many marine species. Crassostrea and Saccostrea live mainly in the intertidal zone, while Ostrea are subtidal. The hard surfaces of oyster shells and the nooks between the shells provide places where a host of small animals can live. Hundreds of animals such as sea anemones, barnacles, and hooked mussels inhabit oyster reefs. Many of these animals are prey to larger animals, including fish such as striped bass, black drum and croakers.

An oyster reef can increase the surface area of a flat bottom 50-fold. An oyster's mature shape often depends on the type of bottom to which it is originally attached, but it always orients itself with its outer, flared shell tilted upward. One valve is cupped and the other is flat.

Oysters usually reach maturity in one year. They are protandric; during their first year they spawn as males by releasing sperm into the water. As they grow over the next two or three years and develop greater energy reserves, they spawn as females by releasing eggs. Bay oysters usually spawn by the end of June. An increase in water temperature prompts a few oysters to spawn. This triggers spawning in the rest, clouding the water with millions of eggs and sperm. A single female oyster can produce up to 100 million eggs annually. The eggs become fertilized in the water and develop into larvae, which eventually find suitable sites, such as another oyster's shell, on which to settle. Attached oyster larvae are called spat. Spat are oysters less than 25 millimetres (0.98 in) long. Many species of bivalve, oysters included, seem to be stimulated to settle near adult conspecifics. Some tropical oysters in the family Isognomonidae grow best on mangrove roots. Low tide can expose them, making them easy to collect. In Trinidad in the West Indies, tourists are often astounded when they are told that in the Caribbean, "oysters grow on trees."

Common oyster predators include crabs, sea birds, sea stars, and humans. Some oysters contain live crabs, known as oyster crabs.

Marine pollution:

Oysters consume nitrogen-containing compounds (nitrates and ammonia), removing them from the water. Nitrogen compounds are important phytoplankton nutrients. Phytoplankton increase water turbidity. Limiting the amount of phytoplankton in the water improves water quality and other marine life by reducing competition for dissolved oxygen. Oysters feed on plankton, incidentally consuming nitrogen compounds as well. They then expel solid waste pellets which decompose into the atmosphere as nitrogen. In Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay Program plans to use oysters to reduce the amount of nitrogen compounds entering the Chesapeake Bay by 19,000,000 pounds (8,600,000 kg) per year by 2010.

Commercial fishing: Fishing from the wild

Oysters are harvested by simply gathering them from their beds. In very shallow waters they can be gathered by hand or with small rakes. In somewhat deeper water, long-handled rakes or oyster tongs are used to reach the beds. Patent tongs can be lowered on a line to reach beds that are too deep to reach directly. In all cases the task is the same: the oysterman scrapes oysters into a pile, and then scoops them up with the rake or tongs. In some areas a scallop dredge is used. This is a toothed bar attached to a chain bag. The dredge is towed through an oyster bed by a boat, picking up the oysters in its path. While dredges collect oysters more quickly, they heavily damage the beds, and their use is highly restricted. Until 1965 Maryland limited dredging to sailboats, and even since that date motor boats can be used only on certain days of the week. These regulations prompted the development of specialized sailboats (the bugeye and later the skipjack) for dredging.

Oysters can also be collected by divers.

In any case, when the oysters are collected, they are sorted to eliminate dead animals, bycatch (unwanted catch), and debris. Then they are taken to market where they are either canned or sold live.

Commercial fishing: Cultivating oysters

Oysters have been cultured for well over a century. Two methods are commonly used, release and bagging. In both cases oysters are cultivated onshore to the size of spat, when they can attach themselves to a substrate. They may be allowed to mature further to form seed oysters. In either case they are then placed in the water to mature. The release technique involves distributing the spat throughout existing oyster beds allowing them to mature naturally to be collected like wild oysters. Bagging has the cultivator putting spat in racks or bags and keeping them above the bottom. Harvesting involves simply lifting the bags or rack to the surface and removing the mature oysters. The latter method prevents losses to some predators, but is more expensive.[12]

The Pacific or Japanese oyster, Crassostrea gigas has been grown in the outflow of mariculture ponds. When fish or prawn are grown in ponds, it takes, typically 10 kilograms (22 lb) of feed to produce 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of product (dry-dry basis). The other 9 kilograms (20 lb) goes into the pond and after mineralization, provides food for phytoplankton, which in turn feeds the oyster. To prevent spawning, sterile oysters are now cultured by crossbreeding tetraploid and diploid oysters. The resulting triploid oyster cannot propagate, which prevents introduced oysters from spreading into unwanted habitats.[13]

How long to grow?

A Pacific oyster takes two years to reach market size of 2 1/2-3 inches. Kumamotos take about five years. Olympias take at least four years to reach just a single inch. Belons, depending on the location can take over five years. Atlantic oysters grow more slowly and take on average 6-7 years. Warm-water oysters from the Gulf of Mexico can reach four inches in less than nine months.

How long can an oyster live?

20-30 years, depending on the species, sometimes longer depending on the Body of Water and the algae it consumes. I have a picture me holding a Kumamoto over 40 years old, weighing in at over fifteen pounds- it’s used exclusively for stock- an oyster “Stud,” for lack of better term.

How do oysters reproduce?

Oysters are Hermaphrodites, meaning they “switch” between male and female over the course of their life. They mostly start as males, and can switch a number of times, depending on what is needed. The males “spawn” when the water reaches a certain temperature, usually above 68°-70°, depending on the species. Females generally spawn when the water is just a tad less warm than the males. A male discharges about 50 million sperm a “pop,” with the female slightly higher in the number of eggs. In the wild, the rate of survival for an oyster to reach an inch is about one in 25,000 fertilized eggs.

Can you tell an oyster’s sex when it’s on the 1/2-shell?

I can, but you’ll rarely meet someone who can in a Restaurant. Shellfish biologists will look at the number of gill flaps as an indication, but it’s pretty hard without a magnifying glass.

How do oysters eat?

Oysters are Filter Feeders, meaning they pump water through their body by opening and closing their shell. A mature oyster can filter over fifty gallons of water a day. This is what creates the difference in flavor and finish- the algae an oyster filters will have a lot to do with this, as will the depth it’s grown as well as the amount of salt in the water it filters.

What is the smallest oyster? Olympia oysters are the smallest, growing to little over 1¼ inch in about 4-5 years. Olympias are only found on the West Coast if the United States, typically in the Pacific Northwest. It is the only indigenous oyster to our West Coast, with the remainder being imported from Japan.

Where are the most oysters produced? In the United States, Washington State. In Canada, Prince Edward Island. Interestingly enough, if the water in Prince Edward Island was the same salinity and temperature, it could produce over ten times the amount farmed in Washington.

What’s a “Blue Point?” Any oyster from the Eastern United States can be called a Blue Point. It’s a very generic term and can cover anything from the Gulf of Maine to Eastern Central America, which is why I prefer never to use the term- almost like “Ahi” with tuna. Similarly, any oyster from Prince Edward Island can be called a Malpeque. Currently, there are over a hundred growers on Prince Edward Island and over a thousand on the East Coast of the United States. If someone asks for a Blue Point, a seasoned Server will ask them which type they like, since we usually have about half a dozen East Coast oysters.

What about Pearls? The pearl is farmed, usually in the South China Sea, but not from an oyster we consume. It’s a completely different species called the Rock Oyster, Crassostrea Malagrina, and is only farmed for pearl-culturing purposes. A 1/4” pearl takes almost ten years to grow in nature, but in a controlled environment can be accomplished in about a third of the time. Pearls do occur in Nature, but are extremely rare in the cold water oysters we consume- I’ve opened well over 825,000 oysters and I’ve found only three (one just several days ago). A pearl starts out as a grain of sand that gets trapped inside the oyster, usually on the East Coast and gets covered in calcium as a defense mechanism. Ever heard the term “Mother-of-Pearl?” Basically the same thing- it’s the inner lining of the oyster shell.

Thinking of Names for your Babies? Baby goats are called Kids; a baby eel is called an Elver; a baby oyster is called a Spat. Who comes up with this stuff?

World Records? Yes, there are actually some out there:

The most oysters opened in under a minute is held by my good friend Patrick MacMurray or Toronto, Canada. Patrick opened 34 choice oysters in sixty seconds. The oysters he was using were Aspy Bays, which are great to open for speed given their nice deep-cupped shells for ease of opening. Patrick is also a World Champion, taking first at the World Cup in Ireland in 2002. Numerous attempts have been made at the record, one of the closest being by Mark Mavrantonis of Chicago, Illinois- falling short at only 32- the oyster knife was inside the thirty third, but the top muscle was not cut all the way through so it didn’t count.

The record for the most Oysters Opened in a Single Day is held by Mark Mavrantonis of Chicago, Illinois. Mark’s Team of four opened 16,775 oysters in an afternoon at the 2003 Annual Guinness Oysterfest. Of all the Guinness Oyster Festivals in the World (over a hundred), more are opened in Chicago, of all places. Even the World Cup in Ireland only consumes 11,000 at most, and the Festival lasts five days and nights. Mark opened over four thousand oysters and was unable to move his left arm for almost three days.

Last year, champion eater Sonya Thomas of Virginia doubled the existing Oyster Eating Record by eating a whopping 432 oysters. Thomas, who weighs in at only 105 pounds, goes by the nickname, “The Black Widow.” On her website, Thomas said she chose that name out of her “desire to eliminate the males” in competitive eating. She credits her “good appetite, an active metabolism and a burning desire to win” for her success. Thomas also holds the records for grilled cheese sandwiches (25 in 10 minutes) and lobster (38 in 12 minutes). In 2003, Thomas earned more than $40,000 in prize money. Sonya has never attempted to open an oyster. And until she learned about the contest in Louisiana, never knew they came in shells and had to be shucked. She is currently planning on traveling to Coney Island New York for the World-Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest…

The record for shucking oysters is held by Frenchman Marcel Lesoille, who shucked 2,064 oysters in one hour.

George Pauling (19th century South African railway builder) whose favorite parlor trick was to pick up a horse and carry it around his billiards table, was alleged to have shared with two friends a breakfast of 1000 oysters and eight bottles of champagne.

It is believed that Chesapeake Bay oysters have been gathered by humans for over 6,000 years. Chesapeake Bay oyster production in the late 19th century was over 111 million pounds; in 1980 it was 22 million pounds; in 1990 it was less than 4 million pounds.


“Mix one pint of salt with thirty pints of water. Put the oysters in a tub that will not leak, with their mouths upwards and feed them with the above, by dipping in a broom and frequently passing over their mouths. It is said that they will fatten still more by mixing fine meal with the water.”

Oyster Frequently asked Questions

  • How long does it take a Pacific oyster to reach market size? 9-24 months.
  • How long does it take a Kumamoto oyster to reach market size? 24-60 months.
  • How long do oysters live if not disturbed? About 20 years, sometimes more.
  • How many eggs can a healthy female oyster produce annually? About 50 million.
  • How much water does an oyster filter daily? About 40 gallons.
  • What state in the United States produces the most oysters? Washington.
  • What is the smallest mature oyster in the marketplace? Olympia.
  • Are pearls very common in Pacific oysters? Not very, most pearls are cultured in Asia.


From 1880 to 1920, New York was the undisputed oyster capital of the United States.

How to Eat A Closed Oyster: A muricid snail drills through the oyster shell, insert its proboscis and uses the teeth at the tip to rasp up the oyster's flesh.

In the mid to late 1800’s conflicts between oystermen who used different types of gear and between those in Maryland and Virginia, escalated to deadly levels in a time known as the Oyster Wars. Maryland formed an Oyster Navy in 1868 to police the waters, enforce regulations and deter violence.

The city of Crisfield, Maryland is built on a foundation of oyster shells.

George Pauling (19th century South African railway builder) whose favorite parlor trick was to pick up a horse and carry it around his billiards table, was alleged to have shared with two friends a breakfast of 1000 oysters and eight bottles of champagne.TO FATTEN OYSTERS

“Mix one pint of salt with thirty pints of water. Put the oysters in a tub that will not leak, with their mouths upwards and feed them with the above, by dipping in a broom and frequently passing over their mouths. It is said that they will fatten still more by mixing fine meal with the water.” - From Housekeeping in Old Virginia, 1887.

World Records:

  1. Sonya Thomas ate 36 dozen oysters in 10 minutes for the world record.
  2. The record for shucking oysters is held by Frenchman Marcel Lesoille, who shucked 2,064 oysters in one hour.


Oysters have always been linked with love. When Aphrodite, the Greek godess of love, sprang forth from the sea on an oyster shell and promtly gave birth to Eros, the word "Aprodisiac" was born. The dashing lover Casanova used to start a meal with 12 dozen oysters!

An oyster produces a pearl when foreign material becomes trpped inside the shell. The oyster responds to the irratation by producing nacre, a combination of calcium and protein. The nacre coates the foreign material and over time produces a pearl.

Folklore says that oysters should only be eaten in months that contain the letter "R", September, October, November, December, etc. The notion that oysters should not be eaten in "R"-less months - that is - warm months, may have sarted in the days when oysters wher shipped without adequate refrigeration and could spoil.

Oysters are not only delicious, but they are one of the most nutritionaly balanced foods, conatining protien, carbohydrates and lipids.

Four or five medium oysters supply the recommended daily balance of Iron, Copper, Iodine, Magnesium, Calcium, Zink, Manganese, and Phosphorous.

Oysters help boost your mental energy and mood elevators - thay really are "Brain Food"!

The History

Oysters, best known for their reputed aphrodisiac powers, have been a favorite of food lovers throughout the centuries, beginning with the Roman emperors who paid for them by their weight in gold.

Oysters have always been linked with love. When Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, sprang forth from the sea on an oyster shell and promptly gave birth to Eros, the word "aphrodisiac" was born. The dashing lover Casanova also used to start a meal eating 12 dozen oysters.

Oysters have been an important food since the Neolithic period and were cultivated long before the Christian era. The Greeks served them with wine and the Romans were so enthusiastic about these marvelous mollusks that they sent thousands of slaves to the shores of the English channel to gather them.

Connoisseur's Guide to Oyster Eating

Oysters au natural are best served simply with crushed ice and seaweed. Fresh lemon juice or Worcestershire sauces are both good accompaniments. There are also two classic sauces to be served with raw oysters. The first is a mignonette sauce with shallots and vinegar and the second is a chili sauce. Oysters may also be cooked in many ways, such as poaching, marinating, frying, grilling or baked. Some of the favorite recipes served at Maestro S.V.P. are in the list below.

Come see the old Oyster Beds just before Featherbed Bay