How oysters go from farms to dinner plates throughout North Carolina

Matthew Schwab owns Hold Fast Oyster Company in Sneads Ferry, and he explains the intricate process of how oysters go from farms to your table.
Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 1:27 PM EDT
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SNEADS FERRY, N.C. (WECT) - People are used to having oysters served to them at a restaurant, but do you know what happens before they hit your table?

I spoke with Matthew Schwab, owner of Hold Fast Oyster Company in Sneads Ferry, to learn more about the intricate processes of an oyster farm.

There are three parts to the growth process, which starts with a hatchery. The hatchery spawns the oyster, and the oyster starts as a larvae. It then attaches to a tiny little piece of an oyster shell that’s been dispersed into the water. The hatchery will grow them until about 1 millimeter, which is about the thickness of a credit card.

Next, they move onto the nursery, where they are grown until they’re about a quarter inch. Then they are put into the cages on the farm; it takes four weeks for an oyster to grow full size.

Overall, it takes a few months to get a fully-grown oyster on your dinner plate.

But it’s not always calm waters and sunshine on the farm. Schwab also spoke about the struggles that he faces as an oyster farmer.

“There are lots of challenges. Hurricanes being an obvious one, weather, rainfall events where you get 4, 5 or 6 inches at one time. Oysters get stressed by a sudden change in salinity. Things like barnacles growing all over your gear or all over your oysters are a challenge. So, all kinds of things to contend with as an oyster farmer.” Schwab said.

Oysters have a wide range of tastes depending on what water they live in. North Carolina has many different growing regions in its bays and rivers. It is the reason that we can have so many different distinct oysters from a single state.

The life of an oyster farmer has its ups and downs, and farmers are not afraid to get their hands dirty. But Schwab says that, in the end, it’s impossible to eat oysters and be mad at the same time, so more oysters equals more happy people.