Rick Karney had a message for diners at a Slow Food event this week: Eat more oysters.
“Its’ an industry that cleans the water, creates a sustainable food product and creates habitat,” said the longtime director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group. “In order for this industry to flourish, we have to put more in . . . as you eat your oysters tonight, they’re not only good but they’re doing a good thing for the environment.”
The occasion was an oyster dinner at the Port Hunter restaurant in Edgartown Tuesday night with proceeds benefiting Slow Food and the Katama Bay oyster farms that were forced to shut down last month due to Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp) bacteria. The 12 bay oyster farms were closed for three weeks in September and reopened Oct. 5.
“When we heard the oyster beds closed we immediately said we wanted to do something when they reopened,” Slow Food board member Jan Buhrman said. “Luckily that happened sooner than anticipated.”
The evening included a screening of Shell Shocked, a documentary tracing the rise and fall of oysters in New York harbor, and the recent restoration efforts to bring back the fishery in the area. Diners feasted on Sweet Neck Oysters grown by veteran oyster farmer Jack Blake and Honeysuckle Oysters grown by Nic Turner. A question-and-answer session with Mr. Karney and Mr. Turner followed the screening of the film.
Mr. Karney said 85 per cent of the world’s previously existing oyster reefs are now gone, making the Vineyard oyster beds even more valuable.
“You can be happy to know that here on Martha’s Vineyard we are part of that 15 per cent [remaining],” he said. “Should we be eating these things if they’re going extinct? Yes and no. If they’re properly managed it’s fine and actually if there’s a demand for oysters there’s going to be more effort put into growing.”
Around 5,500 bushels of farmed oysters were harvested from Katama Bay last year, valued at $1.1 million, Mr. Karney said.
“It’s an evolution of the fishing industry just as we went from hunters and gatherers on the shore to agriculture, we’re going from hunting and gathering in the ocean to farming a sustainable product,” the shellfish biologist said. “There’s finally an appreciation for how important these organisms are to the environment.”
Mr. Turner started Honeysuckle Oyster Farm in 2011.
“I’m still very new to this and I’m learning lots and figuring it out,” he said. “It’s been a great process and all the farmers have been very helpful along the way.”
“These oysters, I know they came out of the water today, they were iced, at about 3 p.m. they came out of the water and [Mr. Blake] had ice on them,” he said. “Part of the local food and slow food movement, is we’re eliminating risk by eating locally and fresh good quality foods.”
Nathan Gould, executive chef at the Harbor View Hotel, asked Mr. Turner’s preferred method for opening an oyster.
“Carefully,” he laughed.