July 20, 2014

Fresh From the Sea

Fun fact about me, I'm allergic to shellfish and have been for about 10 years now - shrimp, crab and lobster are my enemy. I know, poor me. But for what I lack in the crustaceans, I make up for in the molluscs - clams, mussels, scallops and oysters.

When the opportunity popped up to visit a friends' oyster farm in Kachemak Bay on our recent Alaska trip, we couldn't say no. I'm a huge fan of local food, and getting a chance to experience the whole farm to table process is right up my alley.

Oysters that come from the cold, salty water of Alaska are known for their uniformly shaped shell, with deep cups and plump meats, perfect for serving on the half shell.  While checking out the farm, we were given the chance to try an oyster, harvested not even two hours before. While hesitant at first without the fancy sauces to take the edge off, I knew I'd regret it if I refused, so down it went. It definitely tasted like the ocean, salty and cold, but was also pleasantly sweet and creamy, if you can believe it. You can't beat fresh.

Oyster farming is, by definition, green and sustainable. They are an important component to Kachemak Bay's ecosystem, acting as a sponge, constantly filtering the water to feed while taking in other excess substances, improving overall water quality of the Bay.  In addition to being an important player in ocean nutrient cycles, farmed oysters help reduce greenhouse gases by removing carbon dioxide from the ocean for shell formation. Oysters cannot tolerate the discharge of contaminated water, so the presence of an oyster farm often results in increased awareness and monitoring of coastal waters. 

The whole farming process is quite interesting, and definitely hard work. In Alaska, the water is too cold for oysters to spawn naturally, so the initial spawning and growing process is done within a hatchery. Once the oysters reach about the size of your thumbnail, they are large enough to be introduced into the open water system. From above, it doesn't look too fancy, just a bunch of floating buoys. Below is where the magic happens.

A specific number of oysters are stocked into each net that hangs from the longlines attached to the buoys. These nets are called lanterns and consist of several tiers, each holding about 50 oysters. While growing, they must be handled and cleaned a few times each season in order to keep the nets free of seaweed and marine animals, such as sea stars, which may harm the stock. 

When it's time to harvest, the lanterns are pulled up onto the boat and into a large tray. The full grown oysters are then dumped into a sorting tray and thoroughly cleaned. Any unwanted visitors, like urchins and sea stars, are removed. 

The entire growth process for one oyster takes around 3 to 4 years! Crazy to think for something we gulp back in a matter of a few seconds. I definitely gained a deeper appreciation for the hard work that goes into harvesting this ocean treasure that we take for granted. 

Would you ever try an oyster fresh from the ocean?

And speaking of sea life, check out the size of this kelp...

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  1. I absolutely would! I am allergic to lobster, so for me it's all about clams and oysters too ;)

    1. People always say how much it must suck to be allergic to shellfish, but I always say, "It could be much worse!"

  2. I definitely don't eat oysters. Not my thing. But I do enjoy other seafoods.

    1. They're definitely an acquired taste, and texture.

  3. So cool! I don't eat oysters, but a very educational post- beautiful! I would have never guessed that this is how oysters were farmed.

    1. Thank you! It was very cool to see, gave us a deeper appreciation for the hard work that goes into the food we take for granted.

  4. This is awesome!!! And I love learning about our natural world!!! And Oysters are yummy!!! =) So glad you got to experience it and then share with all of us!!! xoxo
    Stephanie @ Meet With a Smile

  5. Oh my gosh, I'd be in heaven! Looks like so much fun

  6. Looks like such a cool experience! And that kelp is crazy.


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