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Oysters Two Ways

Progress in the Bay … Opportunity in the Cook-off

It takes a long time — two to three years — for an ­oyster to grow up.
    It takes even longer for science to puzzle out how to make the best environment for healthy oysters.
    Just out is the first five-year report on how oysters are faring since Maryland decided to give our native oysters the best chance for survival. The best chance scientists and fishery managers could imagine, that is.
    In the Bay and rivers, sanctuaries were established and furnished to suit oysters, with beds made from lots of old oyster shell where baby spat could settle and grow, safe from harvesting. The bet was that oysters would flourish in sanctuaries, supporting the species, filtering the Bay and making reefs beloved by all sorts of aquatic life. That was the environmental part of the plan.
    Of course oysters are more to the Chesapeake than good environmental citizens. Over our state’s history, they’ve supported an economy, a culture and an enormous national appetite.
    To maintain our oyster economy and appetite, Maryland’s 2010 Oyster Plan made more of aquaculture than ever before. Oyster farming is now a thriving part of our maritime economy. Aquaculturists are making money, and all of us who like to eat oysters enjoy new abundance and variety.
    But the Chesapeake’s oyster culture rises from our oystermen, and they are hunters, not farmers. For their sake, much of the Bay remains open to wild harvest.
    Oysters in wild harvest territory have not fared so well. They’ve declined by 30 percent on average between 2013 and 2015, presumably due to harvesting.
    Protected oysters, on the other hand, increased two and one half times in number and size since 2010, when sanctuary management went into effect.
    You can see what that means.
    But the whole story is more complicated, as watermen strive to protect their livelihood and Gov. Larry Hogan follows up on his promise to promote Maryland business.
    How to resolve competing, contrary interests?
    It’s only possible if all sides feel they’ve gotten their fair share. Mediation makes that kind of resolution happen, we’re told by our Bay Weekly neighbor Martin Kranitz, who runs Mediation Services of Annapolis.
    Oyster wars have a long history in the Chesapeake. As we begin to understand what oysters need to be healthy, making oyster peace among humans seems a good part of the plan.

Opportunity in the Cook-off
    In this age of relative oyster abundance, it’s time for some oyster culinary invention.
    Can you create an oyster recipe worth $1,300?
    Suit the taste of this year’s judges of the 37th Annual National Oyster Cook-off, and that grand prize will be yours.
    I challenge you to imagine how you — and Maryland oysters — can wow us.
    Yes, I’m one of the judges, along with John Shields, PBS cooking show host, cookbook author and chef-owner of Gertrude’s in Baltimore and Rob Kasper, former Baltimore Sun syndicated food columnist, author and blogger. So I’m invested in your invention. The better you create, the better our tasting experience. We’ve eaten some delectable — and imaginative — dishes over the years; this year, we want to taste yours.
    Submit recipes for any or all of three categories: Hors d’oeuvres, Soups & Stews and Main Dish. Recipes are accepted through August 31.
    If one of your recipes is named a finalist by the National Oyster Cook-off committee, you’ll prepare your recipe to present to the judges and share with spectators on October 15 during the 50th Anniversary St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival in Leonardtown.
     First, second, and third place prizes in each category earn $300, $200 or $150. The grand prize adds an additional $1,000. Awards also recognize Best Presentation and People’s Choice. All contestants plus a guest will be invited to a welcome reception and lodged in a local hotel.
    Judging of the recipes is based on predominance of oysters, oyster flavor, overall taste of the dish, originality and presentation. Judges look for dishes that highlight the taste of the oyster. One judge commented that when you take a bite and close your eyes, you should be able to taste the ­delicacy of the oyster.
    Submit recipes to lisa.ledman@stmarysmd.com. Find official rules and more information at http://usoysterfest.com/page/6433524:Page:611.
    Contest is sponsored by the Rotary Club of St. Mary’s County, St. Mary’s County Department of Economic & Community Development and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com