About Our Oysters
Well, it’s important to us… it’s important to the health and well-being of the May River, to our community, and yes, important to our bottom line. But instead taking our word for it, let us tell you exactly what we’re doing and why it matters.
Oysters and Our Ecosystem
Oysters are a key element in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. First of all, they provide an important food source to many species such as stone crab, whelks, and oystercatchers. (And you thought only the tourists liked them!)
Secondly, Eastern oysters grow in large groupings or reefs, which provide a habitat for numerous marine species and hunting grounds for larger fish that forage on the animals that live there. Oyster reefs also protect the marshlands by providing a buffer between natural and man-made waves and the delicate marsh grasses, helping prevent erosion.
And finally, oysters are pretty phenomenal at keeping our waters clean. As filter feeders they remove suspended sediments and various pollutants from the water column. (Adult oysters, on average, filter as much as 50 gallons of water per day!) More oysters create cleaner water, cleaner water allows for more sunlight, and more sunlight means more grass beds on the bottom, a vitally important habitat for crabs and fish. Boom.
Oysters and Our Community
Bluffton has long history of supporting a commercial fishing industry, while our neighbor Hilton Head has a booming charter fishing industry. By doing our part to protect the wild oyster population, we’re helping our community continue these important contributions to tourism and commerce.
Think about it… that we know of (because the ocean is BIG), 90% of marine inhabitants either come from or are fed by the environment we’re striving to protect. Our marshes directly affect the health of our region by filtering pollutants and nutrients from the water; they protect our community from rising sea levels and severe storms, but more importantly, estuaries supply breeding grounds and nursery areas for approximately 70% of South Carolina’s most significant recreational and commercial fishes, shellfish, and crustaceans.
Oysters and Our Bottom Line
While South Carolina oyster populations have remained fairly stable, oysters are still suceptible to declines due to over-harvesting, physical disturbance to the shell beds, and increased siltation.
From our initial conception, the May River Oyster Company committed to doing things the hard way, because it’s the right way. When harvesting in the wild, we practice a method called “culling-in-place,” meaning we only remove the mature oysters, leaving the dead shell and smaller oysters intact to reproduce, grow, and continue to provide habitat for future generations of multiple species. (Don’t forget to “Complete the Cycle” by recycling your shells!)
Amazingly enough, harvesting correctly actually creates a healthier reef. Too many oysters clustered together can kill one other, so by removing the big guys, we’re creating more space for the little ones to grow, and by spreading out the culled oysters, we’re extending the reef line, which will eventually lead more oysters. (Woohoo!)
As oysters become more and more popular, the demand has surpassed what the natural oyster population can support, so that’s where our farm comes in. Basically, by “planting” hundreds of thousands of oysters, we’re taking a tremendous amount of harvesting pressure off the wild population, allowing us to leave the shell banks and reefs more intact. And of course, more oysters mean cleaner water... ‘nuff said.
In short, we do everything we can to protect the natural oyster population because once it’s gone, it’s gone… and we plan to be in business for a long time.
Thank you for supporting the May River Oyster Company and our efforts to preserve the May River!