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Bracha also relishes Canadian oysters, such as those from Prince Edward Island, but boycotts them "because there's a big seal hunt up there every year where they kill thousands and thousands of seals. And the hunters are the same people that farm the oysters."
Oceanaire generally proffers ten to 12 varieties "flown in daily from a main purveyor in Boston and another in Washington," according to Morgado. They vary in price from $2.95 to $3.95 each. Some of the oysters served here come from the West Coast, such as Washington's Sister Point and Otter Cove, as well as the restaurant's "crowd favorite," the Kumamoto. East Coast selections include the James Weaver from Virginia, the Orient Point from New York, and the giant Blue Point from Connecticut.
Some oyster bar owners are supplementing expensive farmed specimens such as TIVs, Duxburys, and Malpeques with oysters from the Gulf of Mexico. Yet there are differences between the two grades that extend beyond cost. Gulf oysters are the product of a fishing industry that goes back many generations. So-called gourmet oysters are produced by a new breed of cultivators who are reviving the industry in areas where oyster fishing long ago died out. It has been said that oyster fishermen are exploiting a public resource, while oyster farmers are caring for a crop.
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Apalachicola Bay, southwest of Tallahassee, produces the premier oyster appellation on the gulf. The rapid flow of the nutrient-rich Apalachicola River creates an ideal oyster-growing environment; while virginica oysters take two to three years to reach three inches, Apalachicola oysters grow to maturity in an average of 18 months.
Bracha, though, shies away from Apalachicolas. "I really like them, but the problem is that you don't know exactly where they're coming from. All the other oysters are from specific areas that come with a tag that tell you where they are harvested from. A lot of the gulf oysters are wonderful, but if they're not from inspected waters, you can get pretty sick."
A shortage of oysters within the next couple of years might be inevitable. But will it be a temporary dip in a generally upward curve? Or are we at the pinnacle of the Great American Oyster Renaissance, looking at a long downhill slide?
On the positive side, oysters are resilient. The Clean Water Act of 1972, responsible for starting the oyster revival, cleared up rivers, streams, salt marshes, and estuaries that had been clogged with algae. Crabs and fish began to appear where they hadn't been seen in decades. Natural oyster reefs came back, and tidelands where oysters had once been cultivated were viable again.
Hopeful oyster industry experts say there is every reason to expect that, two years from now, the Texas oyster harvest will be bigger than ever. Louisiana, the nation's largest oyster-producing state, could return to full production within this time frame as well. Meanwhile, some other oyster areas are taking up the slack. Bright spots include Florida, which has dramatically increased production in the past three years. This is promising news for oyster lovers everywhere — and the Catwoman is probably pretty happy about it too.
Robb Walsh is a writer at our sister paper the Houston Press and author of Sex, Death and Oysters: A Half-Shell Lover's World Tour, which was released January 20.