Volume 13, Issue 41 ~ October 13 - October 19, 2005
Bay Bounty
by M.L. Faunce

A pair of historic festivals kicks off Maryland’s oyster season in this second R month, one on each side of the Chesapeake. Food, fun and fellowship in a rural atmosphere has been promised and delivered since 1967 at the St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival, held annually the third week in October. Over on the Eastern Shore, Tilghman Island has put out the welcome mat every October since 1972 for Tilghman Island Day.

Can Chesapeake Oysters Fill the Gulf Gap
This year, organizers of Tilghman Island Day promise fresh Maryland oysters. “Oysters that slept in the Bay the night before will be on the shucking table in the afternoon,” says Michael Roe of the October 15 celebration that benefits the Tilghman Volunteer Fire Company. Roe says some 35 bushes of local bivalves will be served.

At St. Mary’s, festival chairman Dave Taylor has ordered 40,000 oysters in the shell plus 210 gallons of cooking oysters, “a lot of them local,” plus some from Delaware and Virginia.

“I’m hearing great things from local watermen and distributors,” Taylor reports. “They’re saying Bay oysters have never looked better, surprising plump and full.”

That’s particularly good news now that Louisiana, which had become one of the biggest suppliers of eastern oysters, has had its industry shut down by hurricanes. The resulting squeeze is likely to be felt up and down the seaboard.

Already it’s shut down the annual all-you-can-eat J. Millard Tawes Oyster and Bull Roast in Crisfield.

Last year, Bay Weekly reported that most of the oysters sold and served in Bay Country come from the Gulf Coast. Just last month, unladylike hurricanes Katrina and Rita cut off that supply, destroying the Gulf seafood industry. Maryland’s seafood industry has its own woes, but, according to Captain Larry Simns, Maryland Watermen’s Association president, “right now our focus is getting aid to our Gulf friends who have lost so much to Hurricane Katrina.”

With Gulf oysters out of the picture, the Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay are the only local sources. “The Gulf situation will increase demand for Maryland oysters and very likely increase price,” said Maryland shellfish program director Chris Judy. “To help meet demand and supply product to Maryland processors,” he said, “DNR is opening the power dredging season two weeks early on October 18.”

Can the beleaguered Chesapeake fill the bill? We can “expect good quality oysters from Maryland due to improved survival and growth,” Judy says. “It’s hard so early to gauge the season that’s just opened, but it could be on a par with last year’s 72,000 bushels.”

The wild card, he says, is disease. “Never take disease for granted; never assume recovery is at hand,” is Judy’s cautionary comment on MSX and dermo, the diseases that have ravaged the Chesapeake’s remaining oyster stock.

On the Festival Menu
In Maryland, now is the best time we may ever have to give thanks for our local heritage. Oyster festivals not only showcase the opening of Chesapeake oyster season but also celebrate the tradition of men and women making their living working the waters of the Bay and its tributaries.

Oysters any way you like them are the trademark of St. Mary’s County, and you can eat them there this weekend stewed, raw, fried, grilled or scalded. A local specialty, Maryland stuffed ham sandwiches, leads the long list of non-seafood fare offered. After you’ve had your fill, watch 12 finalists compete in the national oyster cook-off demonstrations and take home the Oyster Cook-off cookbook to make winter oyster dreams come true at home.

Local tidewater shuckers and contestants from across the country compete in the national oyster shucking championship both days. On Sunday, women’s and men’s champions will compete for a trip to Galway, Ireland, for the Super Bowl of oyster-shucking contests.

Tilghman Island Day invites you to “retain your great interest in the Chesapeake Bay watermen’s way of life” by seeing, boarding and sailing on skipjacks, the last commercial sailing vessels in North America. Workboat docking contests and races, a boat-building exhibit, demonstrations of net making, clamming, oystering, crab picking, oyster dredging and oyster shucking round out the offerings. Oysters raw, stewed, steamed and frittered, plus seafood and non-seafoods are available for purchase, as is cold beer to wash them down. All proceeds go to the Tilghman Volunteer Fire Company.

Getting There

  • Oct. 15–Tilghman Island Day, 10am-6pm @ Tilghman Island Fire Hall: Route 50 to Easton to Route 32 to Route 33 through St. Michaels about 13 miles to Tilghman Island. $5 w/age discounts: www.tilghmanmd.com/tilghmanday.htm.
  • Oct. 15-16–St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival, 9am–6pm Sa; 11am-6pm Su. County Fairgrounds: Rt. 4 to Leonardtown; left at Rt. 5 to fairgrounds. $5 w/age discounts: www.usoysterfest.com.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.