They’re good for you and good for our oceans. Some say they are even an aphrodisiac. Oh, and they taste great. What isn’t there to like. We’re talking, of course, about oysters.
Oysters are like the green superhero of the waters, acting as natural filters that clean, sustain and improve their surrounding environment. Nitrogen is a harmful pollutant to marine ecosystems, found in human waste, animal waste, nitric acid rainfall (as nitrogen oxides from the burning of fossil fuels) and synthetic agricultural fertilizers that leach into our groundwater and (subsequently) waterways. This over-abundance of nitrogen is food for phytoplankton, which as it reproduces obscures the water, not allowing sunlight to get to underwater plants and grasses that are a vital food source for other marine life. Bacteria that feed on the dying phytoplankton also harm marine life by using up precious oxygen that would otherwise be used by fish, crabs, etc.
Oysters step in and save the day by filtering this nitrogen from the water as they eat the tyrant phytoplankton, causing the water to become more transparent so that sunlight can pass to the marine plants below and thus fostering a thriving habitat for other aquatic life. Amazingly, oysters can filter as much as 50 gallons of seawater every day.
Oysters are recognized as what conservation biologists call a “keystone species,” in that they have a significant impact on organisms in their ecosystem relative to their profusion in biomass and productivity. A keystone species is crucial to preserving the configuration of its larger ecological community. Just like a literal keystone in an archway, even though it lies beneath the least amount of weight, were it to be eliminated, the whole arch would come tumbling down. The same goes for oysters, should they be removed from an ecosystem – an intense domino effect on other marine life. Bottom line, oysters are the VIP guests and the party would be a bust without them.
Hog Island Oyster Farm consistently examines the water quality of its home of Tomales Bay and the company participates in various initiatives that strive to protect as well as restore the Tomales Bay watershed. These efforts involve partnerships with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association, Slow Food San Francisco, Marin Organic and the Tomales Bay Watershed Council.
Furthermore, HIO, along with Taylor Shellfish, was one of the first shellfish producers to receive Food Alliance Sustainable Shellfish Certification for their clam and oyster production. This means that the company had to meet strict benchmarks for environmental protection, safe and fair labor practices, and fish and wildlife conservation in order to qualify under these new standards. HIO anticipates that the certification will allow them to meet the upsurge in requests for sustainable shellfish from both retail and wholesale buyers.
Farmed oysters, like those of HIO, don’t lack in flavor the way other farmed fish (i.e. salmon) can because oysters are able to develop, reproduce and filter the same way they do when grown in the wild. Seafood Watch, which rates fish for their environmental and health qualities, categorizes farmed oysters as a “super green” seafood because they are beneficial to the health of the oceans. As the Economist illuminates, “Indeed, oyster farming is one of the few situations in which both economics and the environment win: any body of water that can support a vibrant oyster industry will almost certainly be cleaner and more vital than one that cannot.”
The Seafood Watch “super green” distinction also means oysters are good for human health due to their low levels of contaminants and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Add to the list of health arguments for scarfing down these tasty bivalves that they are a good source of vitamins A, BI, B2, B3, C, D and minerals including zinc, copper, iron, iodine, magnesium, calcium, manganese and phosphorus. Oysters also happen to be high in protein, low in fat – oh and let’s not leave out rumors that say they enhance sexual function.
You can savor HIO’s fresh, local oysters at their San Francisco or Napa bar locations and a number of California restaurants. For the absolute freshest oysters you can get your hands on, head to Hog Island Oyster Farm in Tomales Bay (Marshall), where they are literally plucked right out of the water and onto plates at their Hog Shack.
Hog Island Oyster Bar – Ferry Building, San Francisco
Located in the historic Ferry Building on San Francisco’s waterfront, Hog Island Oyster Bar offers a wide selection of oysters, craft beers and cocktails, and seasonal seafood menu. Head to the Ferry Building location on a Monday or Thursday for their happy hour special of dollar oysters and discount draft brews. Speaking from experience, it’s a good time. Be sure to get there at 5 p.m. before the oyster fanatics pack the joint and you just might snag an outdoor table overlooking the San Francisco Bay.
Hog Island Oyster Bar – Oxbo Public Market, Napa
Located in the heart of wine country in the Oxbow Public Market, the HIO oyster bar in Napa serves fresh shellfish direct from their farm on Tomales Bay. Pull up a stool at the bar, watch fresh shellfish being shucked to order, and enjoy the communal atmosphere at “The Oxbow.”
Hog Island Oyster Farm – Marshall, Tomales Bay
For those who would prefer to go straight to the source, customers are welcomed to the HIO Farm itself, located right on the banks of the breathtaking Tomales Bay. You can spend a sunny afternoon picnicking, shucking and barbecuing fresh oysters that have been farmed fresh that very same day. Located at the front entrance of Hog Island Oyster Farm is their retail kiosk, “The Hog Shack,” which sells their own freshly harvested oysters (shucked) and shellfish, complimented with seasonal varieties purchased direct from growers. All oysters and shellfish are sold live and unshucked. The Hog Shack is open daily, 9:00am – 5:00pm.
Farmer’s Market Saturdays – Ferry Building, San Francisco
For all you home chefs, Hog Island also delivers oysters and shellfish from their farm in Marshall directly to the Saturday San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. Retail shellfish sales and oysters shucked to order.
HIO Traveling Oyster Bar
Bring the oysters straight to you to cater your next black-tie event with HIO’s traveling oyster bar, which includes an expert oyster shucker, ice, freshly harvested oysters and Hog Wash (their delectable oyster topping of rice vinegar, shallots, jalapeno pepper, cilantro and lime).
Read a fellow Good Lifer’s take on where to dine out on the half-shell here.
Hog Island Oyster Co Sign: photo by Nate Lau of HouseofAnnie.com