By Mary Reid Barrow
As we have come to expect at our oyster roasts over the years, Lynnhaven oysters will be the centerpiece of LRNow’s drive-thru oyster celebration on May 1.
But this year we are especially lucky to have the delicious Lynnhavens on our menu.
As it was for everyone, and every business, 2020 also was a hard year for oysters. Because restaurants were shut down or had limited customers, the market for Lynnhavens was almost shut down too.
Oysters from our small Lynnhaven River are limited in number. They are generally sold on the half shell in restaurants because there are not enough oysters grown here to shuck and pack in jars to sell in that kind of quantity.
That means most oystermen must harvest Lynnhavens from their aquaculture cages when they are just the right size to sit prettily on restaurant half-shell trays.
But this year, many oysters sat unharvested and they grew too big for the half-shell trade. In some cases, the shells grew together and clumped up with one another and made harvesting them difficult.
Then, on top of pandemic woes, there was the sewer main break that closed the river down to oystering altogether a couple of months ago. Fortunately that issue was resolved and the river quickly regained its health.
But, as good luck would have it, Parish Point Oysters, a new company with newly planted oysters on the Lynnhaven River, was able to fill the order for our drive-thru oyster roast. In addition Pleasure House Point Oysters had enough suitable oysters to fill this year’s raffle for a personal oyster roast.
These woes pale in comparison, however, to the days not so long ago when we couldn’t dine on Lynnhavens at all because the river was so polluted.
For decades on and off, the Lynnhaven River was closed to oystering for health reasons until at one point in the 1990s, our little waterway was closed completely. Those sweet-salty oysters known up and down the East Coast and coveted by famous gourmands and royalty alike were just a memory.
When Lynnhaven River 2007 was formed in 2002, the goal was to eat oysters from the river at our 2007 oyster roast. Alongside the city, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other environmental groups, we began the job of cleaning up our river.
Everything from replacing septic tanks along the river with city sanitation, to planting buffers along the water’s edge to absorb run-off pollution, to a scoop the poop campaign to keep harmful dog waste bacteria from washing into the storm drains was on the agenda.
And it worked. In 2007, the first oyster was eaten at the roast. Lynnhaven River 2007 became Lynnhaven River NOW and everything was up hill from there on. Today almost half the river is open to oystering, thanks to continued hard work.
A long-time oysterman on the river once told me that you could tell a Lynnhaven from all other oysters, by the way it tasted. It was like the difference between “chalk and cheese”, he said.
Thank goodness, we have no chalk, only Lynnhavens on the oyster roast menu this year.
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