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David A. Fahrenthold‘s story in Sunday’s Washington Post depressed me. The decision whether or not to add Asian oysters to the Chesapeake Bay will soon be made by three men who seem to be weighing only two factors: how a fast-growing, disease-resistant Asian oyster could revive a dying industry vs. how a fast-growing, disease-resistant Asian oyster could harm the bay’s ecosystem and help wipe out its native Eastern oyster.
But this business-versus-environment debate leaves out at least two other important factors: history and taste. The Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginicus) has been a vital part of life on the Chesapeake [PDF] even before Europeans started settling here, and the bivalve, thanks to all the different waters in which it lives, has developed a well-deserved reputation for being one of the most flavorful oysters in the world, small, briny, and delicious. And we want to forsake this salty friend for what?
The Post story didn’t mention it, but authorities are considering the Suminoe oyster (Crassostrea ariakensis), not its more famous Asian cousin, the Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas), which was introduced in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, where it has become hugely popular and has helped muscle out the native Olympia oyster. I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted a C. ariakensis, but Fahrenthold’s article described its aftertaste as “metallic” when eaten on the half shell, which is really the only way I like my oysters.
I don’t know, but it sounds like we’re close to giving up on a superior tasting oyster for the sake of one that we’ll have to fry or turn into casseroles and stews.
Then again, maybe we’re past the point of no return for Eastern oysters. Late last year, scientists said it would take about $520 million to restore the Eastern oyster on the Chesapeake.
Image by Flickr users Allerina & Glen MacLarty