Friday, March 12, 2010

Oyster Harvesting

Last week I left snowy Ohio to spend a week with my father in south-west Florida.  My dad's friend Bill introduced me to oyster harvesting.  Although I don't eat this slimy delicacy of the sea, it was interesting to see the process in action.
Harvesting oysters is really a simple endeavor and requires only a few pieces of equipment.  The boat we used was a wide flat bottom fishing boat.  A useful feature of this boat is called a jack plate.  The outboard motor is mounted to the jackplate which allows the boat driver to raise and lower the motor vertically while under way.  This set up lets the boat run in very shallow seas with just the prop in the water.
A most important requirement to collecting oysters is knowing where to find them.  After a half hour run we arrived at the oyster bed.  The water was only about 6 inches deep.  The whole area was littered with oyster shells, some empty or broken pieces, and of course live ones.  Reaching around in this rubble you can tell the live ones by their weight.  Another essential piece of gear is gloves for your hands as everything that rests in the sea water is eventually covered in barnacles.  Barnacles are small shellfish that attach themselves to rocks, pilings and ship bottoms.  Their shells have a very sharp edge.

                                                                                                      Oysters are brought back to the boat where a heavy piece of steel is used to chip off the barnacles and other debris.  After about a half hour of gathering we filled a 5 gallon bucket with fresh oysters, covered them with ice, and headed back to the marina with our catch.
I like to imagine this is a more traditional method of harvesting shellfish for food.  My trip might not have been much different from 200 years ago except probably the use of sail power to get to the oyster beds. Oysters served in restaurants are raised on commercial farms where the shellfish are constantly turned or raked to prevent the build up of barnacles.
The Gulf Coast of Florida is teeming with life.  Even in March (end of the winter season) one can observe many types of birds, fish and reptiles.  The region is definitely a sportsman's paradise.

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