Ever wonder about the life cycle of a farm-raised oyster? From seed to shuck, here’s a look at the approximately 18-month journey of a Hoopers Island Chesapeake Gold oyster.
Spawning in Crocheron
Beginning each spring around late March/early April, our hatchery team based in Crocheron (Southern Dorchester County) sets aside one day a week for spawning new oysters that originate from our disease-resistant broodstock selectively bred at the Virginia Institute for Marine Sciences.
Using a scalpel, the hatchery team gently removes and collects the gametes from the oysters. Sperm from tetraploid males (four sets of chromosomes) is used to fertilize eggs from diploid females (two sets of chromosomes) to create natural triploids. Fertilization takes place within minutes and cell division occurs over the next 24 hours.
As many as 115 million fertilized eggs are introduced to a 1,500-gallon tank in our hatchery rearing area. The larvae are fed once or twice daily with algae grown in our mass culture room.
In two to three weeks, the larvae are moved outdoors to our downwelling system where finely ground oyster shell (micro-culch) is introduced. The oysters attach to the substrate within 24 hours, undergo metamorphosis and become seed.
Eventually transferred to an upwelling system and then floating cages or bags at our nursery on Hoopers Island, the oysters’ energy is focused on shell growth over the next several months.
Heading Out to the Farm
Upon reaching one inch at approximately six months, the oysters are ready to be moved to open waters. Our farm is located off the waters of Hoopers Island – where the Honga River meets the Chesapeake Bay – an iconic Chesapeake Bay watermen’s village where crabbing, oystering and fishing has sustained generations of families.
On the farm, the oysters are placed in protected baskets and grown in floating cages. Naturally tumbled by the tide in clean, sunlit surface waters, the oysters achieve a deeper cup, improving taste, quality and appearance.
At several points in their growth, the oysters our brought back to Hoopers Island where they are tumbled, washed and graded before they are returned to the farm. This process promotes growth, produces more beautiful shells and creates better shell density for easier shucking.
Oysters Ready for Harvest
When the oysters reach the desired market size, the baskets are pulled and brought to Hoopers Island’s post-harvest facility.
Many of the oysters are hand-sorted and placed in 50 or 100-count bags ready for our customers. Others go through a special infusion process and some are shucked for pint sale.
Smoked Sea Salt Infusion
Bags of oysters are placed in cool waters infused with smoked sea salt for four to six hours. This final brining process provides the “smokey” flavor of our “Chesapeake Smoke” oysters sold online and our “Smoke in the Water” oysters available from the raw bar menu at Dogfish Head’s Chesapeake & Maine restaurant in Rehoboth Beach.
Ready to Serve
Smoke in the Water oysters are shucked by the Chesapeake & Maine team just prior to being served. Try them with the house-made mignonette sauce using Dogfish Head’s new Blueberry Shrub Vodka Soda.
Shucked for Pints
In addition to growing oysters served on the half-shell, Hoopers Island sells shucked pints online and in retail stores. Shucked oysters are great for frying, stews and other delicious dishes. Here are some of our favorite recipes.
Shells from shucked oysters are stored in Hoopers Island’s recycling pile. Some shells are ground and used as cultch on which juvenile oysters attach in the hatchery. Other shells are used for restoration of wild oyster beds. One Hoopers Island-grown oyster can contribute to the growth of 40 to 50 new oysters in the Bay.
To order Hoopers Island Oysters online for delivery to your home, shop here.