Why should you only eat oysters in months with an "R"?
This saying originated early in the 1900's when there was little refrigeration and no food safety programs - eating shellfish in the warmer months of the year wasn't a good idea. Thanks to modern testing, improved farming and processing methods, and government approved food safety programs, shellfish are now available 12 months of the year.
Do you really eat oysters raw?
We do, they are sweet and refreshing! West coast oysters are in the peak season from October - May, and they spend the warmer summer months focusing their energy on spawning and then fattening up for their winter hybernation. With all foods of animal origin (including beef, eggs, fish, lamb, poultry and shellfish), cooking reduces the risk of food borne illness. Persons with certain medical conditions may be at higher risk if these foods are consumed raw or under cooked.
Where do baby oysters come from?
From adult oysters. In our case, because we're farmers, we grow baby oysters in our hatchery and rear them in our floating shellfish nursery until ready for planting. In the wild, oysters release gametes, that is eggs and sperm, into the water when the conditions are right. Oysters can spawn this way several times in a single spawning season. Once the gametes are released into the sea around the parents, fertilization can occur between swimming sperm and free drifting eggs. Obviously, timing is of the essence, and fertilization occurs within about 15 hours. Larval development follows and about 17-22 days later the eyed larvae can settle, metamorphose, and grow into mature oysters. Very few baby oysters make it in the wild, just one in 80million, so farming is the only reliable and sustainable method of producing shellfish in BC waters.
What do oysters eat, and how do they eat it?
Oysters eat algae by filtering seawater through their gills (sort of like a whale filtering water through its baleen to get shrimp). Algae is a microscopic plant that grows in water, so the oyster is a vegetarian! In fact, oysters eat only algae, or phytoplankton, through their entire life. A good sized adult oyster can filter some 80 litres of water per day, and if every litre contained thousands of tasty, digestible bits of algae, you can imagine the process. Oysters filtering the water is very beneficial as it allows sunlight to penetrate deeper into the water collumn and allow for more marine plants and animals to thrive.
How do you plant oysters?
We plant juvenile oysters onto our beaches in patches, almost like a garden, but without burying them in the ground. We don't bury oysters because they would be choked by the mud, unlike clam seed that once tossed onto the ground will naturally dig themselves down into the sand. The young oysters will stay the general vicinity of where they are put on the beach, but storms can blow them up the beach. We constantly monitor our beaches to make sure none of our oysters are rolling away from their patch. We also use a floating bag method where we place oysters into a floating poach and let the waves rock them into a smooth shape with a deep cup.
How do you harvest oysters?
We harvest oysters by bending over and picking them up off the beach, or by emptying the pouch they are living in. From the beach we put them in a net, and leave them on the beach until the tides comes in. The nets of oysters are marked by floating corks and are picked up by one of our boats, and brought straight to the plant for processing that day. Most oysters grow in the inter-tidal zone, which is the part of the beach that is covered with water at high tide, and exposed at low tide. In British Columbia, the tide ranges from 0 - 16 feet, which means that we have lots of room to grow oysters.
Do you ever find any pearls?
We do find pearls sometimes. Oysters make a pearl when something inside their shell is bugging them. If they live on a rough beach where they are always tossed around by the waves, they might get bits of rock or sand tossing around with them. Some of these small rock or sand fragments get inside the oyster's shell when it is open, and irritates their soft flesh. The oyster then coats the rock or sand with the same material as it makes its shell with, called nacre, or mother of pearl, and this is a pearl. Finding pearls is pretty rare in Pacific Oysters. If you find one, consider yourself lucky!
Are there male and female oysters?
Yes, the two sexes are separate in this species of oyster. This means that at any one time, an oyster is either male or female; but in some cases, both male and female sex organs are present. Interestingly, they can change sex during their lifetime from one to the other and possibly back again. The change is thought to be related to environmental conditions; femaleness being favoured in locations and years with good food supply.
Will an empty oyster shell grow a new oyster?
Yes, it will, if there are some baby oysters attached to the outside of the shell, and it is put back on the beach. Sometimes the baby oysters are microscopic so you cannot see them on the empty shell, but they are still there. The new baby oysters will grow their own new shell, and only use the old shell to stick onto. However we do not encourage throwing your oysters back into a random bottom of water, oysters should only be returned to the bay area they originated in as to not spread invasive species that may be lurking on their shells. The calcium in oyster shells are great for your garden or even if you have pet chickens!
Is it true that oysters are an aphrodisiac?
Oysters are an excellent source of zinc, a nutrient known for its contribution to sexual development, hence the reputation as an aphrodisiac. Oysters are also rich in iron, copper and other minerals, which contribute to good health and a strong immune system.