If you’ve noticed a shortage in local oysters over the last week, blame the polar vortex. Rappahannock River Oysters, which supplies restaurants like Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, Hank’s Oyster Bar, and Eat The Rich, has been unable to harvest large swaths of its Chesapeake bivalves because its waterways were frozen.
“We were off probably 40,000 oysters last week,” Rappahannock co-owner Travis Croxton says. Normally, they ship out about 110,000 in a week. Olde Salts raised in the Chincoteague Bay and Stingrays in Ware Neck, Va., were the most affected, because the boats that harvest them were iced in. An area with Rappahannock oysters in Topping, Va. was also iced over, but the company was able to cut through the ice to pull up its oyster cages.
“It takes a lot to freeze over the waters where we are because there’s salt in them,” Croxton says. “It’s hard to freeze the ocean.” But not impossible. Croxton says he hasn’t seen a situation like this in a decade.
While the icy waters affect the accessibility of the oysters, they shouldn’t harm the oysters themselves. “Oysters are strange in that they can actually be frozen solid, and as long as they aren’t jostled, they can actually come back to life,” Croxton says. “But if you handle them with your hands when they’re frozen, they’ll die on you.”
Fortunately, the weekend’s warm weather has helped Rappahannock River Oysters get back to its normal operations, which means you can now return to your previously scheduled slurping.
Photo from Rappahannock Oyster Bar by Darrow Montgomery