Oysters farmed on tidal flats have a flavor that seafood lovers crave.
“The water quality (at the shoreline) imparts a unique sweet, salty flavor to the oyster,” said Mike DeLuca, the director of Rutgers University’s Aquaculture Innovation Center on Bayshore Road in Cape May. “Obviously growers don’t want to lose that.”
“The oyster takes on the flavor of its environment. It’s called ‘merroir,’” said Aquaculture Extension Program Coordinator Lisa Calvo, who runs Project PORTS: Promoting Oyster Restoration Through Schools for Rutgers, and helps her husband, Gustavo, with his Sweet Amalia Oyster Farm.
Growers could wait until after the red knots leave to transport their oysters to the bayshore for a few weeks to provide the special taste, she said.
And smaller farmers are likely to stay in the intertidal zone, because of the cost of deep water aquaculture, said Calvo.
“You’d need a good size vehicle to work in this bay,” said Calvo, along with other equipment for raising the oysters.
On Friday, about 500 yards away from Moro’s farm, Betsy Haskin, the daughter of the Rutgers researcher for whom the laboratory is named, had taken her equipment out to her small plot via kayak and was sorting oysters.
Each oyster is handled many times as it grows, as it is moved from one bag to another to avoid overcrowding, and when it is harvested. Oyster aquaculture is extremely labor intensive, she said.
“We have to pull each one out by hand,” said Haskin as she showed a 3-inch oyster ready to harvest. “It takes one and a half to two years to get to this size.”