Starting in 2020, millions of dollars of farmed oysters in the US had no place to go because of low restaurant demand due to the pandemic. It takes approximately 2 years to grow an oyster from seed to restaurant-size, and with dropped demand, farmers are stuck with misshapen oysters that are too big or ugly to sell. A US government program run with the Nature Conservancy throughout the Eastern US and Washington state bought up these oysters in late 2020 and early 2021 to help out farmers and transplant them to waterways where they will help fight climate change by filtering water and rebuilding coastal reefs. Then, in the summer of 2021, demand skyrocketed, but with a disrupted growth cycle, the farmers were struggling to keep up with demand.
Commissioned by the New York Times but sadly never published, I spent a couple of days out on the water at the base of Cape Cod with farmers from Round Island Shellfish and Spindrift Oysters as they tended to their overgrown oyster beds and relocated some of them to a one-acre pilot project re-establishing a natural oyster reef in coastal waters.
A big thanks to the team at The Nature Conservancy, the oyster farmers, and to Matt at the NYT for the support!