I spent a recent morning with my husband on the Wicomico River in Southern Maryland (Fun fact… did you know there are TWO Wicomico Rivers in Maryland? The other one is on the Eastern Shore.) Recreational oystering involves using oyster tongs to scrape along the bottom of the river on oyster beds, gathering the oysters, and sorting out the ones large enough for harvest. It is hard, back-breaking work and makes the end result of the tasty, salty oyster even better… of course that is easy for me to say because I am not the one doing the tonging!
An adult oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day so they are integral to the river’s life. Recreational oystering, by the nature of the difficulty of how the oysters are harvested and by regulation, takes very few oysters from the waters. To help ensure there are oysters for the future, careful measuring and culling of the oysters that still need to grow happens while still out on the boat. Oysters that are too small and empty shells are returned to the water at the oyster bed site so baby oysters, called spat, can grow on the shells.
It takes an oyster 3-5 years to reach regulation size on the oyster bars in the wild. Farm grown oysters grow even faster, in as little as 2 years since they are suspended in the food and sun rich top layer of the river instead of the dark bottom.