North Carolina Oyster Week, a celebration of the ecology, economy and culture of oysters in the state, will run from Oct. 11-15, and is filled with events aimed at saluting the shellfish.
Morehead City began the festivities ahead of time with the North Carolina Seafood Festival from Oct. 1-3, which blended education on the ecological effects oysters have on marine ecosystems and wine-paired tastings into one weekend.
To celebrate oyster week closer to home, Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham will be serving a one-day-only oyster and gravy dish concocted by Chef Ricky Moore on Oct. 9. Swansboro’s White Oak Oyster Company will have fresh oysters ready for purchase at the South Durham Farmers Market that same Saturday.
White Oak Oyster Company’s owner Benjy Davey said he founded his company after sensing a need for locally sourced oysters.
“Harvesting is a lot of work, but at the same time, I just enjoy being out there,” Davey said. “It’s just something fun, relaxing, enjoyable, fulfilling.”
Oysters are recognized not only for their connection to North Carolina cuisine and their taste, but their positive impact on marine ecosystems. Davey said he thinks Oyster Week is an opportunity for the North Carolina shellfish industry to get its name out there.
“It’s all about awareness,” Davey said. “A lot of people just don’t know that North Carolina, that we grow some of the best oysters in the country.”
Beyond building an awareness toward oyster consumption, having that same recognition to oyster’s ecological improvements, especially on water quality, are incredibly important, Davey said.
Jane Harrison, a coastal economics specialist at N.C. Sea Grant, a coastal research and education institution, said she believes the presence of oysters on North Carolina’s shore is beneficial.
“Oysters benefit North Carolina’s coastal ecology and economy,” Harrison said. “These benefits can be referred to as the three F’s: food, filter and fish habitat. They filter water, provide food for humans and create reefs that build homes for more fish.”
The shellfish industry supports the livelihoods of many by creating more than $27 million in economic impact and over 500 jobs for North Carolina, according to a press release from Sea Grant News.
“They’re really a keystone species for North Carolina’s coastal ecosystems,” Harrison said.
Harrison is also a leader in the Oyster Trail, an organization whose members, including restaurants, oyster farmers and educators, set up events during Oyster Week to provide oyster-centric tourism and learning experiences.
“I’m hopeful that the hoopla of Oyster Week will bring some eyes to the Trail,” Harrison said. “We want more people to experience what the oyster has to offer in our state, and whether you are on the coast or inland, you can find ways to do that.”
Ryan Bethea, a teacher-turned-oyster farmer, partner of the Oyster Trail and owner of Oysters Carolina, will be hosting a livestream on Oct. 12 in conjunction with the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources as part of the Oyster Week festivities.
Bethea said he believes the most important part of oysters’ ecological effect is their ability to filter and clear water which allows more sunlight to reach the sea floor.
“What the oyster will do is it will filter algae and stuff out of the water and eat it, so it’s removing stuff that way,” Bethea said.
Bethea said he has hope for the future for his trade.
“We’re really on the cusp of taking over nationally,” Bethea said. “We just haven’t had the interest and the ability. Now we’re getting recognized by the governor, and it’s all part of the process to get North Carolina oysters, to separate them into a league of its own.”
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