Wednesday, February 11, 2015

the oysters of Barren Island

Maybe I should add an oyster knife to Spartina's cruising gear.

At the very top of Hooper Island, Fishing Creek leads from the Honga River out towards the bay.  You pass beneath the fixed bridge, the boat ramp and a few deadrises to starboard, an old cemetery in a farm field to port.  Then there's an old white building with a little pier.  Ahead, across some very shallow water, is Barren Island.  I have sailed near Barren Island many times, and I have passed through Fishing Creek often, most recently last September.  I've noticed that cinder block building each time I passed by and guessed it was an old out-of-use fish house.  Just yesterday morning I came across the website for Barren Island Oysters, which appears to run its aquaculture operation out of the old structure.

My first experience with Barren Islands and her oysters, in this case wild oysters, was in 2010 when I sailed up Tar Bay into the shallow water, the steel centerboard clanking on the bottom to let me know I was over an oyster reef.  I did not get any of those oysters, but a nice striper holding on the reef and, soon it was on Spartina's grill.  

Farm raising oysters had been a great innovation on Chesapeake Bay.  Grown from "spat" in floats, the oysters soon become large enough to be put in cages out in Chesapeake Bay, the jumble of shellfish filtering the water and at the same time becoming a living reef that provides structure and protection for fish, crabs and eels.  Oysters farms can be found all over the bay.  I've heard there are at least 20 farms in Virginia waters, and many more in Maryland waters.  They are good for the environment, good for the economy and they produce some pretty tasty oysters.  I'm a fan.

What appeals to me about Barren Island Oysters is its location, right there by Fishing Creek where I sail from the Honga River out to the Bay.  Maybe this fall I'll have a few extra dollars in cash and an oyster knife on board, and maybe I'll drop by that cinder block building and pick up some fresh oysters for dinner on the half-shell.  Wouldn't that be nice.

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