2013 PRESS RELEASES
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August 13, 2013
VIRGINIA OYSTERS TO MAKE DEBUT AT HONG KONG SEAFOOD EXPO
~ Event could open up new export markets and new business for Virginia oyster growers ~
Contact: Elaine J. Lidholm, 804.786.7686
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) announced today that Virginia oysters are headed to a Hong Kong seafood show. Two Virginia Shellfish growers will exhibit at the Asian Seafood Expo in Hong Kong September 3-5, 2013. The goal is to increase shellfish sales and generate new business opportunities throughout Asia.
“This could open up a whole new export market for Virginia shellfish,” said Matt Lohr, VDACS Commissioner. “When you consider that the oyster industry was nearly dead 25 years ago, this important development shows that the economic vitality of the industry continues to swing upward.”
From the turn of the century until the early 1990s, Virginia oysters declined dramatically due to over fishing, disease and other factors. The introduction of non-endemic oyster species to reestablish productive growing areas in denuded, diseased areas was one solution. New growing methods of raising oysters in cages, racks and floats off the bottom kept diseases and predators away. The refusal to introduce non-native species was also a factor in restoring the native oyster, Crassostrea Virginica. Since the late 1990s, the health of oysters in Virginia has improved and with it, the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Lohr cites the following as strong indicators of the revitalized oyster industry:
- The shellfish aquaculture industry in Virginia continues to grow, adding significant value to the state’s seafood marketplace. The industry sold $9.5 million in oysters in 2012, an increase of $3 million from 2011. Nearly 67 million oysters were planted in 2012, a two percent increase from 2011.
- The annual contribution of shellfish farmers to the economy of the Commonwealth is approaching $100 million.
- Virginia is the largest producer of fresh, farm-raised, hatchery oysters on the East Coast. Over the past decade, aquaculture techniques have made oysters available year round and the Virginia oyster harvest has increased ten-fold, from 23,000 bushels in 2001 to 236,000 bushels in 2011.
- Virginia is the nation's third largest seafood producer and the improvements in oyster harvesting over the last decade have made the Virginia oyster “a premier culinary treat.” – Rachel Cooper, About.com Guide to Washington, D.C.
- Virginia oysters grow in seven distinct areas, each one with a different salinity range and different taste, ranging from salty to buttery to sweet, or any combination. This diversity appeals to a wide variety of oyster lovers and stimulates sales.
Through a cooperative agreement with industry and the US Food and Drug Administration, the Virginia Department of Health monitors shellfish waters and has the authority to shut down any with high levels of bacteria. For example, when higher than normal levels of Vibrio parahaemolyticus were detected in one area around Fisherman’s Island near the Bay Bridge and Tunnel, VDH shut beds in that very specific area but left the other areas open. “This is an important step in protecting the public’s health and maintaining the economic health of the industry,” Lohr said. “There was no public health reason to shut down all seven districts and if we had, the financial and human impacts could have been devastating to the people who depend on the water for their living.” Consumers are always reminded to be aware of the risks associated with consuming any raw seafood or other protein foods such as eggs, beef, poultry or dairy.
With the increased economic vitality has come a corresponding environmental benefit. Shellfish farming is truly a green industry. Oysters clean the water, remove nitrogen, accelerate denitrification, enhance water clarity, promote eelgrass survival and provide excellent habitat for myriad juvenile fish and crustaceans.
The recovery of the oyster industry has another state partner in addition to VDACS and the Department of Health, and that is the Virginia Tourism Corporation. They have been promoting Virginia restaurants and sites where shellfish harvesting takes place, and travelers are responding by heading to Virginia’s Eastern Shore and Tidewater areas. Read what reporters are saying about Virginia oysters in Washington, DC and New York City.“What’s not to love about Virginia oysters and shellfish?” asks Commissioner Lohr. “We are getting rave reviews for our Merrior (the maritime equivalent of Terrior for wine); our plantings and our harvests are growing every year; the economic contributions of the shellfish industry have multiplied several fold and our shellfish crops are continually improving the quality of the waters of the Commonwealth.”