Who is Toby Island Bay Oyster Company?
We are three partners: one from an extended family whose Chincoteague roots go back many generations, a retired engineer-turned-charter boat operator and a DC-based marine biologist. Other local men, through this project, have been able to work on the water.
Chincoteague oysters are storied. Once exported in large numbers to New York and Philadelphia, they were so popular that fistfights over who would get them first would erupt at the Fulton Fish Market.
From Ingersoll, Ernest. 1881. The Oyster-industry. History and present condition of the fishery industries. Tenth Census of the United States. Department of the Interior. 251 p.
"Chincoteague oysters are shipped almost exclusively to New York and Philadelphia, and during good seasons command high prices.
"During the season of 1879-'80, Chincoteague oysters were in active demand at high prices, the average for the winter being not less than 60 cents per bushel, and in the latter part of May 90 cents was readily obtained. A feature of the Chincoteague trade is, that all oysters are sold by the thousand, and not by the bushel, as in other parts of Maryland and Virginia. This custom has been adopted in conformity to the usages of northern markets.
"Greenback is a town situated near Franklin, on the Chincoteague bay, the southern terminus of the Old Dominion Steamship Company's railroads on the peninsula. Nearly every man living in Franklin, and every one in Greenback, depends on the oyster-business for his support. Both of these villages have grown up since the war, Greenback being the older place. It was so named by an old oysterman, one of three or four who first planted in the bay in front of the place, because the first season's shipment of oysters returned to the oystermen such a rich reward in greenbacks. This was in 1865, and since then the quality of the oysters produced in this part of Chincoteague bay has been so generally good, that they have made a favorable impression on European shippers."
Fom Lillian Mears Rew's book, Assateague & Chincoteague: As I Remember Them.
"Chincoteague, a beautiful Island by the sea, is part of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, that peninsula which bounds the Chesapeake Bay. The Island, which is nine miles long by perhaps a mile and a half wide, is sheltered not only by the long mainland to the west, but to the east by Assateague, an island running up through Maryland, and is connected with the mainland by a five mile causeway and bridges. This little island town of about four thousand inhabitants has indeed been given the right name meaning ‘The Beautiful Land Across the Water.'
"The Island received its name from the tribe of Indians known as the Gingo-Teague Tribe.
"When the white man came, he came to possess, and so the small Indian tribes were driven away to the Mainland and their island home was theirs no more. Thus Chincoteague was first settled in 1672.
"The Chincoteague Pony, now a registered breed, descends from the 'wild' horses on Assateague Island, a 37 mile long barrier island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. The 'wild' horses on Assateague are actually feral animals, meaning that they are descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state.
"[T]he internationally famous "Pony Penning" event… began in some form during the 17th century when unclaimed horses were captured and marked by colonists in the presence of neighbors on a day of fellowship and festivity. The modem Pony Penning began in 1924 as an effort to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and is still held on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July. The Virginia herd, rounded up by the Chincoteague "saltwater cowboys", swims across the channel (at slack tide) to Chincoteague on Wednesday in front of thousands of cheering spectators. The swim takes about 5-10 minutes. Most of the foals are auctioned off on Thursday and the remaining horses swim back to Assateague on Friday."
From Burns, M.A. and L.S. Hartsock. 2007. Voices of the Chincoteague: Memories of Greenbackville and Franklin City. Arcadia Publishing, Mount Pleasant, SC. 224 p.
"Without Chincoteague Bay, there would have been no oysters. Without oysters there would have been no watermen. Without watermen and their families there would have been no train, no houses, no commerce, or anything else.
"The real heyday for Chincoteague oysters was during the late 1800s and very early 1900s. During this time, the boomtowns of Greenbackville and Franklin [on the mainland, across the bay from Chincoteague] thrived thanks to bivalve gold. Even though native Chincoteague oysters were gone by the 1940s due to overfishing and disease, there was a second period of economic viability that resulted from planting seed oysters.
"[Oysters transplanted from the Chesapeake Bay into Chincoteague Bay] allowed them to be marketed as Chincoteague Bay and also gave them a saltier taste than oysters from other areas. Good (fat, salty and large) seaside, or salt oysters, as they were called, would rest and fatten in the Chincoteague Bay for two to three years before being harvested. Of course, this business like any other had those who would cut corners and harvest them as soon as they had been in the water a few hours or days. Nevertheless, when a menu or sign in Baltimore, Philadelphia or New York read "Chincoteague Oysters," these transplants brought top dollar.
"[T]hey brought their catch back to sell to one of thee shucking houses or to a broker who would in turn sort, put them in barrels, ice them down, and send them to the cities by the Delaware, Maryland & Virginia Railroad that came to Franklin City...and sent on its way to Baltimore and Philadelphia as well as to such places as New York's Fulton Fish Market."
Farming oysters and other filter-feeding bivalve shellfish benefits the environment.
Oysters improve water quality by filtering phytoplankton (algae), which reduces excess nutrients, making the water more transparent. This helps bottom plants, on which many other organisms depend, to thrive.
Farmed oysters also reduce fishing pressure on and (if they spawn) help to restock local wild populations, and provide habitat for many other organisms.
Few other farmed products can make such a claim. The leading independent guides and certification programs for responsible seafood, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch and the Aquarium of the Pacific's Sustainable Seafood Forum, and environmental nonprofits such as The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund, give culturing oysters in floating bags or on bottom racks — our practices — their top ranking.
Because wild shellfish stocks have declined in so many areas, large numbers of commercial fishermen can no longer support themselves with shellfish harvesting. They have had to find income from totally unrelated activities.
Small-scale shellfish aquaculture can provide marine-based livelihoods for these watermen, preserving a lifestyle and trade crucial to maintaining the integrity of Chincoteague and other seaside towns.
Our operation has involved local Chincoteague watermen from the start and has provided full-time employment for two of them.
"Oyster farming is one of the few situations in which both economics and the environment win: any body of water that can support a vibrant oyster industry will almost certainly be cleaner and more vital than one that cannot. Farmed salmon may turn flabby, bland and, without the addition of dye to its diet, dully grey, but eating an oyster will always be, as Léon-Paul Fargue, a Symbolist poet, said, 'like kissing the sea on the lips.'"The Economist, Dec 18th 2008
Adapted, by Judy Stein, from “The Best American Recipes 1999” by Fran McCullough and Suzanne Hamlin.
Melt butter in a large sauté pan and add shallots. Cook briefly, not allowing them to color.
Add the wine and gently boil over medium-high heat to reduce by two-thirds.
Add clam juice and simmer to reduce by half.
Add half-and-half and reduce until slightly thickened.
Add oysters and poach until they are just barely heated, about 3 minutes. Do not let the soup boil.
Spoon into warm, shallow bowls and sprinkle with the fresh herbs and white pepper.
Mix 1 tbl lemon juice, 1 tbl olive oil, one tbl dry white wine and a big pinch of dry dill.
Drink the rest of the wine.
Spoon a small amount on oysters (either preshucked or let the grill do that for you).
Cook til meats are firm – open second bottle of wine.
Drain juice into a saucepan. Bring to a boil & remove from heat. Skim white solids.
Reduce heat. Add oysters & simmer until edges just begin to curl. Add milk & heat to near boil (do not boil). Add butter & season to taste.
Better the second day, after flavors have mingled. Recipe is best doubled, to allow for leftovers.
Dish prepared by Chef Cal Berry, Berry’s Catering & Floral, Augusta, GA; berryscatering.com
Heat pan over medium heat. Add butter, swirling until melting. Add chopped onions and minced garlic until onions are translucent. Add bacon, wine, beer, Boursin cheese and sugar and bring to a boil. Add clams, cover and cook until clams open, 5-7 minutes. Remove clams and with a slotted spoon scoop bacon and onion mixture, spoon over open clams and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
Founded on Oyster Shells
Saturday, February 21, 2009
New York, New York
Oyster Riot XIV
Friday, November 21 & Saturday, November 22
Invitational Oyster Challange
Monday Evening, April 7, 2008
Let the World Be Your Oyster
Wednesday, January 28, 2009