Washington Oysters Back on Line

Oct 15, 2012

You may have noticed that oysters coming from the west coast took a precipitous dive in quality this summer. I did. I was in Seattle in late September and was served some of the worst oysters to ever come across a raw bar at Elliott’s Oyster House, a joint usually dependable for bivalve excellence. There were only a handful of Washington State oysters even available, where normally there would be at least a dozen. I had some tiny, bitter Eld Inlets, some tannic Olympic Miyagis, some plain, lumpen Kumamotos from Humboldt Bay (the South Sound Kumos were actually pretty good), and two DD Denottas that were, no joke, the size of my thumb nail.

What was going on? Vibrio was going on. The unprecedented warmth and sunshine in the Pacific Northwest this summer raised water temperatures and triggered the most serious outbreaks of vibrio (a bacteria that naturally occurs in coastal waters and can make people sick) seen in many years. After a few people did get sick, the harvest areas were automatically shut down for months, until the bacteria was cleared out. This is as it should be–safety coming first–but it meant that many beds that showed no signs of vibrio couldn’t be harvested, which meant oyster bars were scrambling to find any available oysters, including a lot that weren’t ready for prime time. On October 1, the closings were lifted, and all the best Pacific oysters are again available. So if you had a bad experience this summer, it’s time to get back on that horse. The oysters are showing well, and the growers could use the sales!

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