‘Capitol Connection’ – Oysters Making a Comeback

August 14, 2013

With the arrival of August, summer is slowly beginning to wind down. Families are preparing for their final vacations and will soon be sending their children back to school. During this time, there are still many opportunities to enjoy everything that our state has to offer. While we may be more familiar with the rolling hills and winding rivers of our region, our state is home to a wide variety of beautiful places to visit, including the Connecticut shoreline.

After recently visiting friends along the eastern coast, I had the chance to sample one of our state’s great natural resources: the oyster. This week, I would like to share some information with you about this growing agricultural industry. Located only a short drive away, the shoreline is a great way to enjoy summer and beat the heat.

Connecticut is world renowned for our high quality Blue Point Oysters. First named after Blue Point, Long Island, these oysters may be eaten either cooked or raw. According to Connecticut-based supermarket Stew Leonards, they “are full and meaty, about the size of your palm, and feature a salty yet refreshing taste. They are only 9 calories each, plus they are low fat but high in zinc and protein.” Although they may be small in size, their economic impact is growing.

According to the state Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Aquaculture, the oyster industry has proven to be an important part of our state’s agricultural economy. In 2010, more than 220,000 bags of oysters were harvested from waters along our state for a value of over $8 million. One bag contains about 100 oysters.

At one time, our state’s oyster industry was worth as much as $45 million before natural diseases nearly wiped the oyster stocks out in 1998. However, in the past few years, the oyster industry is slowly returning thanks to cleaner water and habitat restoration. It also supports about 300 jobs.

During this year’s legislative session, several proposals were considered that would reduce the size of oysters allowable for harvest or expand the number of offshore oyster bed leases. Neither made it through the committee process.

As with any shellfish, state regulators have a responsibility to close oyster beds during times of storm runoff or high water temperatures which can make them unsafe for consumption. However, when grown in proper conditions, eating oysters is a unique way to enjoy the shoreline and support local jobs.

Some communities even celebrate their long history with the oyster industry. For example, two such celebrations are coming up, including the Milford Oyster Festival on August 17th and the Norwalk Oyster Festival on September 6th through 8th. Today, they include music, food and other entertainment.

Whether you visit one of these festivals or make a trip to eastern Connecticut, I encourage you to learn more about this growing industry. For more information, please visit the state Department of Agriculture website at www.ct.gov/DOAG.