Oyster industry emerging once again in Delaware
Millsboro, Del. – Delaware’s oyster aquaculture is once again emerging in the inland bays as a promising new industry that could clean up the bays and boost the local economy.
“This isn’t new to the state of Delaware, it’s more of a revival.”
After nearly four decades, oysters are back in the Delaware waterways. It’s an industry that once thrived in these waters before disease wiped them out. But now it’s back and the first oysters were planted in April.
“Currently in the Inlands Bays we’ve got probably somewhere between 400,000 to 500,000 actively growing,” explains Mark Casey, President of Delaware Cultured Seafood.
But the few oyster farmers that are taking this on believe Delaware could produce two million in the next five years with the early success they’re seeing.
“They seem to have really taken to Delaware’s water and they’re moving pretty quickly,” Chuck Gifford, a local oyster farmer.
“We’ve got everything from this size to that size in the pipeline ready to come out for consumers for all the different ways you can eat an oyster,” adds Casey.
But this isn’t all about the money, it’s also about the ecological benefits of oysters in the waterways.
“The fishermen are up here fishing, casting their rods, because the fish are here eating all the stuff that grows off the side of the oysters. We’ve made a natural reef where there was no reef structure and everybody who’s a fisherman knows you’re looking for structure,” explains Casey.
Edward Hale, an aquaculture and oyster specialist with Del. Sea Grant, explains, “An adult mature oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day so this is a direct benefit to water quality improvement as well as sequestering nitrogen and phosphorus.”
Right now there are only two commercial oyster farmers in Sussex County, one brand is known as Dewey Delight.
People involved with the business say more could be coming and to ensure that these oysters do not receive the same fate as the ones before them that died because of disease, farmers are treating them and changing up their methods.
These oysters are suspended off the ground to avoid the silt and dirt that previously would get in and around them and cleaned every week, sometimes every day.
“We’re making sure they’re clean, they’re separated, they’re growing. You see how nice and deep this oyster is, a natural oyster grows flat you don’t have that nice meaty taste, ver,y very different than the historical oysters,” explains Casey.
Casey is hoping to have two new brands on the market by this summer, Blue Hen and Delaware Salts, both of which are currently growing.