At his seafood market in Jacksonville, a seasoned fisherman shows his customers that when it comes to our coast and the rich bounty it provides, the world is their oyster.

by Jason Frye on June 24, 2024 | Reprinted from Our State

Capt. John Mallette’s customers at Southern Breeze Seafood trust him to stock their kitchens with the week’s freshest catch. PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLES HARRIS

Southern Breeze Seafood has the clean, cold smell of an iceberg. Every day, the shop makes tons of the stuff, mounding cubes and chips into banks and ’bergs upon which the freshest of the fresh catch sits to tempt customers. Heaps of shrimp, their eyes black and oil-bright. Flounder in an orderly file. Rows of tuna steaks glowing with garnet light. A vermilion snapper, a school of spot, a rocky reef of oysters.

On the walls hang generations-old buoys and markers for crab pots, nets, and lines, their owners’ initials etched deep into the foam and cork bobbers. Baskets and shelves hold seasonings and seafood breaders, lemons and limes, corn and potatoes. Everything you need for a seafood feast.

Capt. John Mallette is passionate about expanding North Carolinians’ horizons beyond the fish they’re most familiar with.

PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLES HARRIS

What Southern Breeze Seafood doesn’t have is the odor of fish. Or cleaner or anything other than fresh. “A seafood market shouldn’t smell,” says Capt. John Mallette, a Sneads Ferry native, commercial and charter fishing captain, and co-owner of Southern Breeze Seafood. “When the seafood’s fresh, it smells like nothing.” He pauses, thinks a moment. “Maybe it’s kinda like an ocean breeze — a little salty but totally clean.”

If anyone knows about the salt-laced ocean breeze, about seafood, about the waters of North Carolina and the creatures that call them home, it’s John Mallette.

“Captain John is the epitome of southeastern North Carolina fishermen,” says Keith Rhodes, whose Wilmington restaurant, Catch, has been showcasing the chef’s own passion for North Carolina seafood since 2006. “He grew up in the industry and the lifestyle of a fisherman. I always saw him by the water, either on the docks or on the boats. He’s a real lifer in seafood.”

A shrimp boat travels the New River, masts spread wide like pelican wings, heading out to the ocean. A pair of trawlers stand tied to the dock, acres of red and green netting draping to their decks. Mallette watches from his booth at Riverview Café, surveying the waters where he learned the art of fishing, and pointing out the old-timers and anglers his age. He jokes that he’s been at this so long, he’s seen as an old-timer, too. He was raised on decks and docks, in fish houses and seafood markets, never far from the water, a fishing rod, the tiller of a boat.

“I was a dock rat,” he says. “Starting when I was 7, Mrs. Betty Warren would babysit me, and I spent many days at the feet of the women picking crabs and shucking oysters. Her husband, Preston, he’d take me out on his boat to shrimp. I fell in love with all of this early.”

In those days, there were more than a few shrimping and commercial fishing boats on the waters around Sneads Ferry. There were more seafood houses, too. Mallette learned to shuck and clean by watching those women and other locals. He eventually graduated from running errands suitable for a 7-year-old boy to heading shrimp and filleting flounder himself. That is, when he wasn’t culling a mess of shrimp on Preston’s boat, separating other sea life accidentally caught alongside the shrimp and tossing it overboard.

He was an apt pupil, soaking up stories and lore from the elder fishermen in the way that only young ears and a growing mind can. These men and their tales of sea and storm and days on the water filled his imagination, charting a path for the rest of his life.

In tribute to the watermen who taught them, they display Millis’s grandfather’s fishing net floats at Southern Breeze Seafood. PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLES HARRIS

Mallette fished. He shrimped. He dug for clams and harvested oysters. With Preston, with other Sneads Ferry fishermen, on the pier at Topsail Island’s Ocean City Beach, which at one time was the only place in North Carolina where Black people could buy seaside property. It was on the Ocean City pier where Mallette learned an important lesson.

“For a while, chefs and foodies were talking about ‘trash fish,’” he says skeptically, “but there’s no such thing as trash fish. There’s fish you know and fish you don’t know — that’s it. When I was young, I’d watch these old-timers on the pier pull up puffer fish and throw them on the boards to die — said they were no good.” He rolls his eyes. “I’d gather them up and take them home. Man, they didn’t know what they were missing.” The puffer fish in North Carolina aren’t the toxic fugu from Japan, which are dangerous or even deadly if prepared by the untrained. Mallette says that our puffers are “the true chicken of the sea. Easy to clean, easier to eat.”

Today, chefs have wised up to unfamiliar seafood, and the term “trash fish” has been replaced with “bycatch,” indicating that the species in question was an unintended catch. Mallette would like to see that term evolve, but more important, he wants to see people’s seafood-eating habits change. “My job is to educate people, to show them there’s more to eat than the six or eight species of fish they know,” he says. “I want to take these fish eaters and convert them into seafood lovers. I want folks to look at me like a butcher for seafood.”

Mallette has been on course for the life of a fisherman since boyhood, and by the time he was in 10th grade, he was earning real money — by his account, some $80,000 a year. His father died before Mallette could form memories of the man, so the money he earned helped the household immensely. Which led his mother to make a startling suggestion. “She knew I loved fishing and being on the water, and she knew school didn’t interest me much,” Mallette says. “So she encouraged me to drop out, fish full-time, and get my GED as soon as I could.” It was a bold move. He left school, spent days and nights on the water, and soon after his class graduated, he earned his diploma. “Six months later I was in Australia, a hired deckhand on charter fishing trips on the Great Barrier Reef.”

Australia. Costa Rica. Panama. The Caribbean. Hawaii.

But Sneads Ferry always called him home. There, he fished, he dreamed, he saw Sneads Ferry the way it had been: waters full of fishing boats, docks busy with watermen, seafood houses awash in fresh catch. He and partner Randy Millis opened Southern Breeze Seafood, selling to the public, a raft of lauded chefs — including James Beard nominees and winners like Chef Rhodes and Chef Ricky Moore — and restaurants from Charlotte to Raleigh to Charleston, South Carolina. Mallette and Millis launched a line of seafood breaders in partnership with Oriental-based Tidewater Grain Co. — a gluten-free, non-GMO product that Mallette uses on his own food truck.

Mallette and his business partner, fifth-generation fisherman Randy Millis, grew up on shrimp trawlers in Sneads Ferry. PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS COUNCIL

Yet even as Mallette worked to promote and celebrate seafood from the waters he knew best, he saw a gulf growing between customers and the local fishing industry. He wanted people to understand the difference between local, domestic, and imported seafood, and to grasp the positive economic impact that customers have when they buy from local fishmongers instead of big-box grocers. He wanted to raise awareness about how often seafood sold in the U.S. is mislabeled. He wanted to help his customers understand how to buy seafood and what questions to ask when they do.

So he embarked on a mission to educate the public. He was invited to speak on the Got to Be NC stage at the State Fair. He’s done the same at other events, including the Sneads Ferry Shrimp Festival, where he sits on the board. He’s also on the board of NC Catch, a seafood advocacy group.

“John has a real vision for North Carolina seafood,” Rhodes says. “His is an important voice in NC Catch because he’s young, visionary, and so knowledgeable when it comes to fishing methods, species, regulations, and real solutions. I think of him as the meeting point of North Carolina’s fishing past and its future.”

At Southern Breeze, Mallette lives up to Rhodes’s ideal. From behind the case of fish, he greets customers by name, conversing as he portions out a pound and scoops a little extra ice into a bag. He guides them to the freshest tuna that North Carolina’s waters can offer. He talks about spot that were swimming yesterday, about local fish frys, about the way things used to be. Even though Mallette says that he’s more comfortable on the water than behind the counter, he shines as he converts fish eaters to seafood lovers, a champion for a true taste of our state.

Southern Breeze Seafood
5138 Richlands Highway
Jacksonville, NC 28540
(910) 430-4289
southernbreezeseafood.com

Whether customers purchase their flounder from Southern Breeze Seafood or another fishmonger, Mallette wants them to be informed about what they’re buying. PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLES HARRIS

Six Pieces of Fish-Shopping Savvy

The butcher of seafood has advice for buying the best catch that you can find.

Develop a relationship with your local fishmonger and learn to trust them. “They know what’s fresh and in season, and they know how to cook it.”

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Where was this caught? When was it caught? When did you get it? “These are all good questions because they show the fishmonger that you’re serious and interested.”

Learn. Explore. Try. “Take a chance on a species you’re unfamiliar with. Try a new way to cook. Grab a whole fish if you never have. We seafood lovers, we love it when you’re curious.”

Look for the seal. BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) and MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certifications on imported seafood “indicate that the supplier used the best industry standards to farm-raise their seafood or responsibly and sustainably catch what’s on offer.”

If you have a question, ask for packaging. “Any true and honest fishmonger wants you to be knowledgeable about seafood, so when you wonder if that salmon really was wild-caught in Norway, ask to see the packaging or a label showing its origin.”

Don’t be afraid of frozen seafood. “Unless you’re catching it yourself, odds are your seafood was frozen. Flash freezers hit temperatures of -20˚ F, freezing the catch solid quickly and keeping it just-caught-fresh for up to a year. When seafood like this is thawed properly, it’s an outstanding product.”

The seafood industry is largely decentralized. But a new Locals Seafood market and processing facility in East Raleigh is helping get seafood to more North Carolinians.

by Andrea Richards on June 12, 2024 | Reprinted from Indy week

Lin Peterson, the cofounder of Locals Seafood, starts our tour of the company’s new East Raleigh market and processing facility by pointing out the fishing village Wanchese on a mural of North Carolina. It’s the state’s hub for the commercial fishing industry that sits, somewhat precariously, on the southern end of Roanoke Island. 

The map isn’t detailed: it’s a large ocean-blue outline of the state that wraps around the corner of the building’s market space, unlabeled except for a small dot representing where we are now. 

Still, Peterson is able to demonstrate the morning’s pickups and deliveries on it, tracing the trajectory of the four trucks active today (the company has eight total). One truck is in Wanchese waiting on fish that may or may not be coming in from fisherfolk who navigate the dangerous Oregon Inlet to get it from the Gulf Stream to the shore. Another truck is picking up mariculture-grown oysters, moving between the 12 family farms that Locals works with. A third truck is on its way toward Asheville, and a fourth is taking sheepshead from Raleigh to Olivero, a Wilmington restaurant. 

Yes, taking Sheepshead back to the coast. As it turns out, thanks to the complications of geography and distribution, there’s no other way to get it there 

While Peterson is mapping these trajectories, Ryan Speckman, the business’s other cofounder works his phone nearby, finding out what fish came in and from where, buying from his network of fish houses, and moving the trucks around accordingly. It’s all happening in real time. 

“A normal seafood operation would just be Ryan on the market buying the fish people want—getting tuna 52 weeks of the year from somewhere in the world,” says Peterson. “The way we do it, Ryan’s more like a reporter of what’s happening on the coast, like a weather forecaster.”

This syncopated dance of boats, cell phone texts, and refrigerated trucks is what it takes to be one of the only seafood purveyors 100 percent focused on North Carolina product.

“It’s been our niche since we started,” Speckman says. 

I don’t know if it was intentional, design-wise, but the way that the map wraps around the room in this new market visualizes the problem Peterson and Speckman sought to alleviate when they started Locals Seafood 14 years ago: the coast on one wall, the Piedmont region and western North Carolina on the other. 

The work of Locals is in bringing the two back together. That’s what these complicated routes do, six days a week—reconnect the coast’s bountiful harvest to its inland inhabitants.

Ryan Speckman, the Locals Seafood co-owner, points out Wanchese on a map, a focal point in North Carolina’s commercial fishing industry, on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Raleigh.

For the uninitiated, prepare for a series of small shocks regarding the state of seafood: supply chain distribution is all over the map, quite literally. According to a recent New York Times article, 65 to 80 percent of seafood in the United States is imported, with exports netting around $5 billion a year. 

The industry is likewise decentralized in North Carolina. Most of the seafood caught off the Tar Heel State’s coast is sent north, following already well-established distribution routes. That means the seafood you scarf down at the beach likely isn’t from there, and the best place to find North Carolina blue crab might be Maryland. 

The realization that few folks in the state had access to North Carolina seafood is what inspired Speckman and Peterson to start Locals Seafood in 2010. The two met at NC State University studying fisheries and wildlife science. Over the past decade, they grew the business slowly, expanding from farmer’s markets to wholesale distribution services for grocery stores and restaurants. Along the way, they created seafood subscription services in Raleigh, Durham, and Asheville and opened two retail markets and restaurants—one in Raleigh’s Transfer Co. Food Hall (shuttered in 2022) and another in the Durham Food Hall.

Now, the new public-facing market in East Raleigh, which offers a stunning array of fresh and frozen seafood, as well as specialty items like dry-aged bluefin tuna belly and cured mullet roe, has a relatively small footprint in the renovated 10,000-square-foot building. Most of the building serves as the company’s whole-fish butchery and seafood processing house. There’s room for a potential restaurant too, but right now Peterson and Speckman are focused on processing and distribution.      

The new facility triples Locals’ capacity to process North Carolina seafood and consolidates its operations close to I-40. 

Location matters: Once you cut fish, the clock begins ticking. Processing near customers helps. An inland fish house like this market ensures that Locals can process and distribute seafood to more distant parts of the states, like Asheville, and still ensure the quality. 

Biologists and wildlife conservationists emphasize the importance of connectivity—corridors that species can move safely through so they don’t get stuck in the sort of isolation that leads to extinction. Locals gives North Carolina seafood a safe passage from its home on the coast to inland parts of the state—even though that path may at times look convoluted, like taking sheepshead fish from the coast to Raleigh and then back again. Centralizing the operations in one place allows suppliers to connect to purveyors and customers across the state. 

“We saw the writing on the wall years ago that to really do this correctly, we needed the proper facility,” Speckman says as we walk through the massive space. “And the proper facility is pretty much this.” 

Michelene King pulls bonitos from the ice before processing them at the Locals Seafood market. Photo by Angelica Edwards.

If seafood had a relationship status, it would definitely be “it’s complicated.” 

There are a number of nonprofit watchguard organizations that monitor sustainability nationally, and as far as the state’s supply goes, many regulations prevent overfishing. 

“Our commercial fishermen are great environmentalists—they want to see the continuation of the species,” John ​​Aydlett, a seafood marketing specialist with the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, tells the INDY. In 2021, North Carolina’s wild-caught seafood industry contributed almost $300 million in value to the state’s economy and provided some 5,500 jobs. The state’s growing aquaculture industry brings in an annual revenue of $60 million. 

As a consumer, it can be hard to keep up with what best practices are: Wild caught? Farmed? Fresh? Frozen? 

“We always tell people that if you can’t find local seafood, the best rule of thumb is to buy domestic,” says Speckman, who has concerns about both the quality of overseas products and their social and environmental impacts. 

Of course, thanks to this new market—and Locals Seafood’s presence at area farmers markets, in stores (Durham Co-Op and Weaver Street Market), and as suppliers to restaurants—it isn’t as hard as it once was to get local seafood. 

(From left) Locals Seafood co-owners Ryan Speckman and Lin Peterson pose for a portrait. Photo by Angelica Edwards.

Just ask Andrea Reusing. The award-winning chef/owner of Chapel Hill’s Lantern Restaurant loves to tell folks how, when she first moved to North Carolina in 1999 and worked at Vin in Raleigh, she’d drive her station wagon to Tom Robinson’s in Carrboro twice a week to get a haul of local seafood.

“There was no east-west distribution of North Carolina fish,” Reusing says. “When I got NC fish from a purveyor, it would have gone up to the Fulton Fish Market in New York City, and then maybe gone down to Atlanta or through Charlotte before coming back. Before Lin and Ryan started Locals there was no other way to get local seafood—except for driving to the coast or maybe getting some through FedEx.” 

Right now Reusing features several items procured through Locals on the Lantern menu.

“We have three different kinds of oysters from three different family cultivators,” she says. “We have wild head-on shrimp and sheepshead, which is one of my favorite fish—it feeds on crustaceans, so it’s very rich and nutty.”

Not only has Locals helped solve a critical supply chain problem for inland restaurants and consumers, but it’s also helping to expand an appetite for seafood beyond the familiar standards of shrimp, salmon, and tuna. If you care about seafood sustainability, the best step is to eat a more diverse range of fish. 

When asked about his relationship with Locals Seafood, Ricky Moore, the James Beard Award-winning chef of Saltbox Seafood Joint, responds by emailing over a photo from 2013. 

Ricky Moore outside of the original Saltbox location in 2013. Photo courtesy of the subject.

It shows him in his trademark floppy fisherman’s hat outside the kitchen entrance at Saltbox’s original location, signing a receipt with a Locals delivery person. There’s a refrigerated box and cooler at Moore’s feet, and the men are framed by the two company’s vans parked side by side. For Moore, the photo speaks to the nature of a more than a decade-long partnership between a restaurant and a vital supplier.

“We’ve got history together,” he says, explaining that from the very beginning his concept for Saltbox—preparing the kind of local, seasonal seafood caught by North Carolina fisherfolk that Moore grew up eating in eastern North Carolina—necessitated a supplier with a similar vision. “Not too many people were doing it the way I needed it to be done to bring my restaurant concept to life.” 

When Moore first opened Saltbox, he installed a “Trust Me” board alongside his regular menu of seasonal items to help introduce patrons to less familiar fish species. 

“In the beginning when Lin and Ryan would bring me stuff like sheepshead, people would be like, ‘What is a sheepshead?’ Only folks who grew up eating stuff would know about it,” says Moore. He was happy to find a source that could supply an array of seasonal, local fish, and thus a symbiotic relationship between supplier and chef began: “I’d say, ‘Bring it to me, man, I’ll sell it.’”

“What’s being served in most places are things that people are culturally conditioned to eat. Everybody knows what salmon is, it’s been marketed to us as healthy. Omega-3s, yada yada,” Moore says. “I like to speak about whole fish: growing up in eastern North Carolina, we ate a whole lot of whole fish, smaller fish like croaker and spot. Unless you’re regionally connected to it as a part of your heritage, you would never see those fish on the menu. And why not? We should be eating them!” 

Moore doesn’t need his “Trust Me” directives anymore, and that’s not just due to the slew of awards he’s won: “I got my soldiers out there preaching the gospel—my customers are telling folks, ‘Yeah, go to Saltbox and try this!’” says Moore. 

It’s always been about more than just logistics—there’s an educational component to learning about local seafood that the lack of crucial infrastructure has only made more pressing. In the case of North Carolina seafood, most of us didn’t even know all that we were missing out on.

“Growing up in eastern North Carolina, we ate a whole lot of whole fish, smaller fish like croaker and spot. Unless you’re regionally connected to it as a part of your heritage, you would never see those fish on the menu. And why not? We should be eating them!” 

When I was growing up in the late 1980s and early ’90s in Apex, we got our shrimp from a man across the street from Holt & Sons Auto Repair who sold them, fresh from the coast, out of a cooler; in the fall and winter, the same spot was occupied by a different man selling chowchow from his pickup. If a special occasion merited shrimp, my mom knew where to go, just as she knew which farm stand to go to in the summer for fresh corn or squash. 

The popularity and proliferation of farmers’ markets helps, but finding these spots can be a long, often communal process: it’s tips from old-timers, trips to local markets and restaurants, and drives spent scanning the streets, circling back to check out a hand-written sign or curious-looking Quonset hut. 

Such stomach-led learning takes time—it’s something that gets shared through interpersonal connections, like generous friends or skilled guides like Moore, who brings it to the table with enthusiasm, knowledge, and trust. There’s a reason we don’t tell people we don’t like where our favorite restaurants are—not only do we not want to run into them, but we don’t want to mar the experience of something special with someone who isn’t. 

Locals Seafood’s expansion will allow outstanding chefs like Moore and Reusing to get the raw materials they need to fuel their creative visions, explore culinary traditions, and preserve cultural heritage. 

It will also help ordinary folks like me learn to cook a fish I’ve never seen before, even though it may have swum past me in a nearby body of water. A patient fishmonger at Locals’ counter can explain what it is and detail how to prepare it. Or maybe I’ll learn to shuck an oyster or clean a soft-shell crab in one of the market’s demo classes. Whatever the case, the story of the species will start to be told, just in finding out where it’s from and how to eat it. 

“What we really care about is our roots of just getting fish from point A to point B,” Peterson says. “When you come to us to buy your seafood, you’re seeing what’s actually happening on our coast. We won’t have mahi but a couple weeks a year, because that’s when they’re catching mahi off the coast.” 

Zack Gragg portions blueline tilefish at the Locals Seafood market. Photo by Angelica Edwards.

“But we have lots of other fish,” he continues, “and we can tell those stories—introduce people to something like amberjack or tilefish, black drum, red drum—all these species off our coast that come and go in season. That’s what we’ve been doing for over 14 years at farmers markets—telling that story and letting folks know, ‘Hey, this is something good to try off our coast and it’s a great resource.’”

The expansion also allows the business to tell these fish and shellfish stories to more people in farther reaches of the state, making North Carolina seafood more accessible. 

Such infrastructure only becomes more important as the word travels regarding the value of what chefs like Moore and Reusing have long held as a cherished resource. In other words, once you learn the story of a fish—a sheepshead, say—and get a taste for it, you might be willing to pay more for it next time.  

“It’s kind of ironic that in making underutilized fish more expensive, it might actually protect the fisheries in the future,” Reusing says. “When the community starts to see ‘Oh, there’s value in this,’ it becomes something that is worth taking care of.”   

“I’ve always been a big proponent of this idea that if we live by a body of water—which we do—that has a beautiful, bountiful amount of local species, we should be eating them,” Moore says. “Locals was—and still is—a wonderful partner in making sure we push this idea of ‘North Carolina first’ in terms of seafood and co-brand North Carolina as not just barbecue but for seafood.

Comment on this story at food@indyweek.com.

Chef Dean Neff of Seabird in Wilmington is all in on this lesser-known foraging find

by Lindsey Liles on June 3, 2024 | Reprinted from Garden & Gun

Photo by Baxter Miller: A tray of tulip snails and lightning whelks fresh from the marsh

At Seabird, an oyster bar and seafood spot in Wilmington, North Carolina, chef Dean Neff will take whatever his shellfish supplier brings him from the nearby marshes: oysters, of course, along with razor clams, stone crab claws, lighting whelks, ribbed mussels, a seaweed called dead man’s fingers, and most recently, a new-to-him ingredient called tulip snails. “They’re something I can’t believe I’m now learning about,” Neff says of the predatory marine snails. “They are just so fun.”

Neff’s supplier is Ana Shellem, an aptly named, one-woman foraging show, who started finding tulip snails at low tide a few months ago in the brackish marshes of Masonboro Island just five miles from Wilmington. Once the delicacy arrived at Seabird’s door, Neff and his chef de cuisine, Jay Jones, went to work extracting, cleaning, and bathing them in an aromatic broth to keep them from toughening. “We used the same technique of cooking them as we do with lightning whelk, something else Ana brings us,” Neff says. “But the tulip snails are more tender, a little bit sweeter than whelk, much smaller, and easier to get out of their shells.” 

Photo by Baxter Miller: Chef Dean Neff extracts the snails

First, the duo put the snails—whose flavor and texture Neff likens to a cross between razor clam and lobster—in a pasta dish alongside Calabrian chili peppers, fresh herbs, garlic, summer beans, and field peas. They even arranged the beautiful spiral snail shells on the side of the plate. “We wanted a simple approach to really allow people to experience them,” Neff says. “We consistently sold out of that dish because people were so intrigued.” Tulip snails also make an appearance on the restaurant’s seafood tower, or come poached, tossed with a vinaigrette and finished with a touch of ramp aioli. Next, Neff wants to pop them in his take on a classic cioppino, add them to a Lowcountry boil, and use them for a stew or chowder.

As it turns out, tulip snails aren’t all that novel of a menu item, at least locally. “Not long after I first learned about them, my wife and the kids were at the Cape Fear Museum, and she texted me a picture of this display of tulip snails that showed how they have been a food source in this area historically,” Neff says. “I love that we are able to bring them back now, give people an experience that is so unique and so much about a sense of place.” 

O

Photo by Baxter Mills: The spaghetti dish featuring tulip snails at Seabird

Much of Seabird’s menu channels that same philosophy. Raw oysters hail from Topsail Sound or Hatteras Island; baked, they are topped with seasonal ramps, cornbread crumbs, and Benton’s bacon. Soft-shell crab and crispy smoked catfish hail from in state, too. And many of Neff’s favorite dishes star ingredients from Shellem, who spends her days wading through the marsh and loves to see how local chefs use the bounty. “I don’t know what we would do without people like Ana bringing in things like these tulip snails,” Neff says. “Without her work, we wouldn’t have this experience, or this connection to an ingredient.” 

by Omar Mamoon on May 23, 2024 | Reprinted from Esquire

Photo by Anna Routh

From classic seafood counters to new spots serving serious martinis, here are our favorite oyster bars—from New York to Los Angeles and beyond.

My rule of thumb is to always order oysters by the dozen and select four different varieties if possible so that I get three of each type. The first one goes down naked and unadorned—I want to taste its sweet, salty liqueur, and I want to savor the ocean from whence it came. The second oyster—same variety—I spritz with just the smallest squeeze of citrus; juice from a fresh yellow lemon is the only acid I need to cut and complement any salinity.

From there, I decide which version I like more before the third one goes down the hatch. Then I move on to the next variety and repeat this process, carefully considering and comparing each oyster’s respective flavor.

I don’t need a mignonette to mask, though a great one is hard to pass up. Consider it toward the end. Horseradish? Pass. Cocktail sauce? Save those for the prawns.

A little dash of hot sauce is a maybe—sometimes I like to change it up a bit with a little heat, but that’s as far as I’ll go.

There are plenty of places across America that aren’t on the water where I down beautiful bivalves to my heart’s content. From the old-school seafood counters and train-station institutions mentioned above to newly opened, regionally inspired bars serving up serious cocktails, here are some of my favorite ones throughout the nation.

St. Roch

Raleigh

James Beard Foundation nominee for Best Chef, Sunny Gerhart grew up in the St. Roch neighborhood of New Orleans before coming to Raleigh. He helped open the famed Poole’s Diner in 2007 alongside his mentor chef, Ashley Christensen, and a few years later, he struck out on his own, opening a seafood-centric restaurant, oyster bar, and ode to his roots: St. Roch Fine Oysters + Bar. Sit at said bar, nab the seats closest to the oyster-shucking station, and watch how the pros do it. The oysters come with fried saltines for snacking on the side; this will make you question why all saltines don’t come golden, brown, and delicious by default.

Read about the rest of Esquire’s favorite oyster bars here

by Kelsie Barton on March 28, 2024 | Reprinted from Raleigh Magazine

Photo by Owen Scott Jordan, Courtesy of Locals Seafood

Locals Seafood opens a full-service fish market in East Raleigh with a restaurant on the horizon.

It’s ofishal: Locals Seafood has a new home in the City of Oaks. Since closing its popular oyster bar at Transfer Co. Food Hall in 2022, Locals—which supplies restaurants and grocery stores throughout the Triangle with the freshest NC seafood—has been working hard to build out a new HQ off of New Bern Avenue in East Raleigh. Now, that space has received a face-lift (think a brick exterior painted a deep ocean blue and bright white signage) and is ready to welcome the city’s seafood lovers to shop, shuck and socialize.

The heart and “sole” of Locals’ new East Raleigh outpost is a full-service fish market carrying a variety of premium seafood brought in from the coast each week. Although Locals’ team of fishmongers regularly sells seafood at farmers markets across the region—including, most recently, in Asheville—this “inland fish house,” as co-founder Lin Peterson calls it, will display their largest offering of fish that can be cut to order or dressed with herbs and ready to take home to cook. 

It’s a full-circle moment for Locals, which champions buying seafood straight from the source and was born out of a desire to give NC folks who live further inland better access to freshly caught fish. “We make four to five trips each week picking up seafood up and down the coast and bringing it to Raleigh,” says Peterson. “It’s a pretty special thing, but it’s kind of hard to paint that picture because we are our own supply chain. … Now, finally, we have a market attached to that operation so we can tell that story.”

Beyond selling superfresh seafood, the market will allow Locals to expand its retail offerings to include salads, smoked fish dips and other chef-crafted items, plus accoutrements such as seasonings and housemade sauces. And with almost 2 acres of outdoor space at the new property, Locals is destined to become the host with the most when it comes to oyster roasts and other local events. There will even be a lineup of educational classes—everything from how to fillet a fish to oyster shucking 101.

With plenty of room for growth at the new HQ, Peterson confirms a restaurant attached to the market is “in our sights.” (And for those wondering, Locals’ existing resto inside Durham Food Hall is still going strong.) The co-founder points to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. as a source of inspo for their long-term vision. But during this initial phase, the focus will simply be setting up Raleigh’s home cooks for success.

“From shuck-at-home oyster kits complete with sauces to stuffed whole fish and marinated shrimp skewers, we’ll have everything you need to prepare amazing seafood at home—and teach you how to do it!” shares Peterson. He adds they will even be dry-aging fish on-site, “allowing home cooks to sear the most perfectly crisp fish skin, just like the pros.”

As spring weather beckons us outdoors and our palates begin to crave a taste of the coast, one thing’s for sure: Thanks to Locals and its seafood prowess, Raleighites are in for one shell of a good time. localsseafood.com

Winter 2024 Issue | Reprinted from Coastwatch

Nathan King of Seaview Crab Company, Wilmington

Seaview Crab Company has seven locations, including its Midtown Market at 1515 Marstellar Street in Wilmington. Nathan King co-owns Seaview Crab with Sam and Joe Romano.

What motivated you to work in the seafood industry?

Sam and Joe are I are childhood friends who grew up in the same neighborhood in Virginia Beach. We often teamed up with one another to do odd jobs – mainly yard work, so we had established a strong working relationship with one another before we left for college.

Their earliest exposure to commercial fishing occurred when their father worked with a crabber on Knotts Island, North Carolina.

Joe and Sam graduated from UNC-Wilmington, and while in school, Sam worked for a local seafood wholesaler and saw the strong demand for Atlantic blue crabs in the Wilmington area.

I got an engineering degree from Virginia Tech, but I had no interest in a desk job, so I teamed up again with Sam and Joe in Wilmington, this time to test the market demand for local seafood.

In the beginning, we sold only blue crabs to local retailers and restaurants. After about two years of catering only to wholesale markets, we set up a 10’ x 10’ tent on the side of Carolina Beach Road to sell blue crabs directly to consumers at retailer prices. We learned our business could not be sustained long-term selling just crabs, so we added shrimp and sales increased. Later, we began selling a variety of finfish and shellfish to diversify our retail offerings.

Seaview Crab Company’s owners (left to right): Joe Romano, Sam Romano, and Nathan King.

You’ve been building a seafood business since 2005. Describe a typical day running your operation.

Mainly I keep my eye on the revenue streams, and these tell me what items to add and which ones to eliminate. My goal is to quantify our efforts so we make good decisions.

I allow our managers to oversee the daily activities in the retail markets and the kitchen while I focus on the numbers to learn what is working well in the business, what is not, and what activities need to be modified to improve our business efficiencies.

Do you make a strong effort to sell North Carolina seafood? 

We do because our customers appreciate local seafood. We keep our supply chains close to home to keep money in the community and because we value the personal relationships we have with fishermen. Also, buying seafood locally allows us to buy high quality products.

Unfortunately, we cannot source enough local seafood to satisfy the demand for it, especially in inland markets. Inland communities two or more hours from the coast can be “seafood deserts” and are where strong market opportunities exist for us.

What is your best-selling seafood and why?

When we first opened Seaview Crab Company, shrimp was in high demand in Wilmington because it was a “shrimp town.” Now fish of all varieties are in high demand. Flounder is popular with our retail customers, and blue crabs continue to be a strong seller.

We are exploring convenience seafood products. We offer cooked hard crabs for sale online because we want to offer niche products that are not widely available from other seafood businesses.

We update our customers every Friday through email blasts, Facebook and Instagram to highlight our offerings and to tell a seafood story of the week.

Credit: Seaview Crab Company

What opportunities do you see for your business?

Digital platforms definitely enhance communications with our customers, but we also take orders by phone for those who are not comfortable with technology.

We are exploring the demand for prepared foods like seafood spreads and seafood chowders because we recognize a portion of our customer base values convenience in buying meals and preparing them quickly at home.

What are the challenges?

Training. Seafood has so many peculiarities that it is difficult to include all the important details in one training manual.

We also want to provide growth opportunities to our team because it is important for the team to grow with the company. Our growth is dependent on their attitudes and capabilities.

Another challenge is sourcing enough local seafood to meet our market demand. We produce crabs, clams, and oysters with our own boats and licenses, but the bulk of what we sell is from other fishermen, dockside fish houses, and dealers. Unfortunately, the number of active fishermen in our area is decreasing.

A third issue is meeting the regulatory requirements of local and state health officials because some of our products fall under the purview of both county public health and state agencies. But we are working with health officials to meet their expectations in a way that maintains and enhances our business efficiencies.

A North Carolina farmer once said, “The ticket to success is learning about your customers. You have to work until your product is so good your customers want to tell their friends about it.” Do you agree? 

I do agree, and we use technology to communicate with our current customers and to attract new ones. We have built a directory of our customers from the emails we collected since our days operating roadside stands. We learn from them very quickly what species are in high demand and what conveniences they need that we can offer.

We shy away from billboards or ads in newspapers. Digital platforms offer us immediate feedback that tells us how well our current and potential customers are engaging with our online advertising.

A Seaview holiday special: baked flounder stuffed with cornbread, crabmeat, onions, peppers, and arugula. Credit: Seaview Crab Company.

How do you envision your business operating five years from now?

I’d like to see us enhance our customers’ access to North Carolina seafood, particularly people living distant from our coast. I’d also like to see us doing more with value addition, such as expanding our meals-to-go category or introducing more varieties of smoked seafood.

Cut-to-order fish is another opportunity, but that category demands a great deal of wrist action from workers. We need to learn if we will have the workforce to expand that offering to our customers.

People do not come to Seaview Crab Company just for the seafood but also to consult with our staff. So we want engaging people who can educate customers on what we offer and how to have the best experience cooking and eating our seafood at home.

What one thing would you like to share with people that you believe best distinguishes Seaview Crab Company from other North Carolina seafood retailers?

Seaview is still a young, ambitious company. I believe we excel at developing new sales strategies and products to help our customers access and prepare seafood beyond the traditional ways of buying and cooking and eating seafood.

We are not afraid to lose some money to find the right approaches to getting North Carolina seafood to the people who want it.

MORE

Seaview Crab Company.

Seaview’s Locations.

Seaview Crab Company on the NC Oyster Trail.

The NC Local Food Council’s story on Seaview Crab Company.

Recipes for crabs and other shellfish from Mariner’s Menu.

Coastwatch on Seafood.

by Frank Graff on January 5, 2024 | Reprinted from PBS North Carolina

Oysters, More Than Just Good Eating

There are plenty of oyster fans in North Carolina and for good reason. Fried oysters, oysters on the half shell, oysters in stews and dressings—it’s all good.

But there are many other reasons to love oysters. Oysters help clean the water; one oyster can filter 50 gallons of water. Oyster reefs provide habitat for small fish and protect the coastline from storm damage and erosion. Oysters are also part of North Carolina’s heritage.

“Oysters benefit our state in myriad ways,” said Jane Harrison, a coastal economics specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant. “They are significant in our ecology, culture and economy.”

It’s safe to say our favorite mollusk does a lot. And a new report from North Carolina Sea Grant shows the value of oysters to North Carolina’s economy.”

Oysters by the Numbers

In 2022, North Carolina’s wild and farmed shellfish industry contributed $31.7 million to the state’s economy, North Carolina Sea Grant found. The farmed oyster industry provided almost half of that, $14.6 million, and created 283 jobs. The report shows the farmed part of the oyster industry is now the most important component of the shellfish sector in the state.

“We have more than 300 oyster and clam farms along the coast, and because they are using more efficient technology than in past years, they have defied the odds to become profitable,” adds Harrison. “It’s exciting to see the exponential growth of these small family farms, especially in producing such a delicious and environmentally important and sustainable seafood.”

Nearly 55,000 bushels of oysters came from state aquafarms in 2022. (There are about 100 oysters in a bushel.) That’s up 19% from the previous year and an increase of more than 500% from 2012. It’s also a new high for the industry, according to the report.

“Oysters are great for everybody: they are great for the economy, they are great for the environment, they are great for the palate, so the more the better,” said Ana Zivanovic-Nenadovic, chief program director with the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

Big Plans to Grow the Oyster Industry

Overharvesting, disease and pollution devastated the oyster industry over the past century. And for years, oyster advocates have pushed the state to invest in the oyster industry and restore the reefs that used to dominate the coastline. They say the new report shows their efforts are paying off.

The commercial oyster industry’s growth is now so strong, North Carolina Sea Grant, the North Carolina Coastal Federation and other advocates believe the industry can contribute $100 million to the economy by 2030.

Part of the growth plan involves the construction of a shellfish aquaculture hub in Carteret County. Work should start in the summer of 2024.

The goal of the aquaculture hub is to have enough space for growers to not only collaborate, but also to store gear and put their products in refrigeration on the waterfront.

Federal law requires oysters to be taken from the water and put into mechanical refrigeration within five hours.

“Small growers have a hard time filling very large orders because there is only so much work you can do on a small boat, and there’s only so much you can do inside that five-hour time window,” Chris Matteo, with the North Carolina Shellfish Growers Association, told Coastal Review.

If the hub is successful and the oyster industry continues to grow, more hubs are planned throughout the state.

Published on January 3, 2024 | Reprinted from NC State CALS News

With their lumpy grey shells and their gooey insides, oysters aren’t much to look at. But, oh, there’s nothing like the way they taste. 

For many food lovers around the world, oysters are considered a sumptuous delicacy, right up there with champagne and caviar. 

And, as you’ll hear on this episode of Farms, Food and You, they have tremendous value beyond the dinner plate. 

Our guest today is Jane Harrison, a coastal economics Extension specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant. And she’s also a faculty member in the colleges of Natural Resources and Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University. 

She’ll delve into a topic covered in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ magazine, discussing the growing farm industry for North Carolina oysters and a tourism effort aimed at helping garner greater awareness of this sometimes-misunderstood creature.

Podcast Transcript

Host:
With their lumpy grey shells and their gooey insides, oysters aren’t much to look at. But, oh, there’s nothing like the way they taste. 

For many food lovers around the world, oysters are considered a sumptuous delicacy, right up there with champagne and caviar. 

And, as you’ll hear on this episode of Farms, Food and You, they have tremendous value beyond the dinner plate. 

Our guest today is Jane Harrison, a coastal economics Extension specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant. And she’s also a faculty member in the colleges of Natural Resources and Agriculture and Life Sciences at NC State University. 

She’ll delve into a topic covered in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ magazine this month, discussing the growing farm industry for North Carolina oysters and a tourism effort aimed at helping garner greater awareness of this sometimes-misunderstood creature.

HOST:

One thing you might not know about North Carolina oysters? These days, nearly half of them are not harvested from wild populations. Instead, they are grown at shellfish farms that dot the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the estuaries where fresh- and saltwaters mix. 

HARRISON:

In 2016 less than a decade ago, most of the economic impact of shellfish came from the harvest of wild oysters and clams. But in 2019, for the first time, the harvest of farmed oysters surpassed wild.

Last I checked, there were over 300 farms – so shellfish farms. 

There’s really been a sea change in terms of local oyster supply over the last decade. We have seen so many oyster growers start to operate. … And what’s exciting about that, it means that you could go to a restaurant year-round and get North Carolina oysters.

HOST: 

Did you catch that Harrison said “year-round”? That’s something else you might not understand about oysters todays: Contrary to handed-down wisdom, it’s OK to eat them in months that don’t end in Rs.

HARRISON:

Now, wild oysters are only available in our state from October 15th to about April. So those are the fall-winter months. And the reason that you don’t eat wild oysters in the summer months is because that’s spawning season. So that’s when we want to leave the oysters to do their thing and come back to us. Whereas shellfish farms don’t have to worry about that. They’re really using oyster seed, and so they’re not worried about … wild oyster populations.  

And it’s a great, I’d say, opportunity also to relieve pressures on our wild oysters. So if you’re in a restaurant in the summer months in North Carolina and you see North Carolina oysters on the menu, they are safe to eat, and they are delicious.

HOST: 

In fact, oysters are safe in the non-R months, and they’re safe to eat raw, as long as you’re not immune-compromised or have a chronic health issue.

HARRISON:

There are very strict regulations when it comes to the refrigeration aspects of production. So I know that can be a concern for some folks about health issues. Vibrio is a major pathogen that we have to worry about in our coastal waters, but generally that only affects oysters in very hot places, more like the Gulf. We have not had any issues in North Carolina because of Vibrio, but that’s … another reason why you always need to refrigerate and bring your oysters down to temperature to keep them safe and healthy to eat. 

If I know where the oysters are from, if I know they’re North Carolina oysters, I happily eat them raw all day long. But it you are immune-compromised, then certainly I recommend cooking them – so maybe broiling them, baking them, roasting them. 

HOST:

Putting oysters on the menu year-round is just one of the benefits of the oyster-growing industry. In North Carolina, the rise of farmed oysters is helping make up for huge losses in wild shellfish populations and harvests that have occurred over the past 120 years. 

In 1902, North Carolina harvests of eastern oysters peaked at 800,000 bushels, then fell to little more than 37,000 bushels of wild oysters in 1994. Overharvesting, the loss of suitable places for juvenile oysters to settle, degraded water quality, and diseases have all played a part. 

In recent decades, wild oyster harvests have staged a comeback, thanks to efforts to restore their habitat and protect them from diseases. But yields remain a fraction of what they were back in the early 1900s. 

HARRISON:
Wild fisheries are limited for a number of reasons, whether it’s habitat change or degradation. Sometimes it’s climate change affecting our fisheries – so oysters, they don’t move much, but when you look at finfish, they will head north if their looking for colder waters. And so we’ve seen a lot of movement of fisheries because of the warming of seas. 

But when it comes to really restoring our wild oyster populations, I think at this point we’re focused on activities to bring that oyster seed, wild seed and the shell materials – so we also call that cultch – C-U-L-T-C-H – back into the environment because if you have … the baby oyster floating out there in the water column and it has nothing to attach to, it doesn’t have anywhere to go. And so there are kind of two pieces there, where you need both the baby oyster and the house for it.

HOST:

That housing made of old shells is not just good for the oysters. It’s important to other marine life and to the people who depend on that marine life for food and for income.

HARRISON:

One of the major success stories of oysters is that they are a keystone species in the coastal ecosystem. So they filter water, they improve water quality and provide habitat for other marine creatures, and they are food for other organisms. 

So when you see a wild oyster reef out in the coastal areas, that’s where you’re going to find your spawning fish, your baby crabs, all the fish that are hiding from predators – that’s their place to grow up. We want to see our wild oyster populations grow tremendously.

HOST:

Couple the state’s efforts to restore wild oyster populations with an increasingly important oyster farming industry, and some say that the time is right to make North Carolina and Virginia, our neighbor to the north, the Napa Valley of oysters. 

Still, some efforts to increase North Carolina oysters and clams from a $30 million a year industry to a hundred million have met with opposition raised in the interest of tourism. 

But for Harrison, oysters and tourism go hand-in-hand. She leads the NC Oyster Trail, a grassroots effort aimed at ensuring that oysters remain a vital part of the state’s economy and culture. Launched in 2020, the trail has garnered national media attention and sparked local enthusiasm.

HARRISON:

The North Carolina Oyster Trail is an avenue to connect North Carolinians with where oysters come from. So whether you’re interested in eating them, maybe you want to know where they live, where they grow up. Maybe you want to get out in a boat and see how they’re grown. With shellfish mariculture, we try to really provide very unique oyster experiences across the state.

So in the coastal areas, for example, you could go on a shellfish farm tour. So you can go out with a oyster grower and see their gear, the technology that they’re using, and even perhaps taste an oyster right from the water. 

If you’re a little bit inland, like the Triangle or Charlotte or Greensboro area, I recommend you check out one of the seafood restaurants or restaurants that serve North Carolina oysters that are featured on the North Carolina Oyster Trail.

HOST:

Harrison says that the trail grew in response to growers’ and fishers’ desire for consumers to gain a better understanding of oysters and their industry.

HARRISON:

I think there’s been a long-held assumption that oysters from Massachusetts or Washington State or Prince Edward Island – other places around the world – were somehow more desirable than our oysters. But yet we have some of the, I think, tastiest oysters on the planet, and some really special ones, too.

HOST:

One of the “special ones” that Harrison points to makes a myth out of my statement that oysters are not much to look at. She says the green gill oyster is far from homely.

HARRISON:

This is an oyster that the gills look slightly green, which in years past, people would’ve thought ‘Uh-oh. I’m not supposed to eat that.’ But actually it’s because they’ve eaten a particular type of algae that makes them green and they have a little bit different flavor, and they’re beautiful when you look at them.

And so that’s something that our oyster farmers have capitalized. … They saw some French oyster growers also offering this kind of oyster at a premium, so a higher price, and now they’re doing that. So it’s a special time of year in the winter months when these oysters take on those conditions. And so that’s kind of an exciting specialty oyster for our growers.

I’m really excited to see the market grow, grow, grow. When you think about demand for seafood, it’s high. We all, many of us, love to eat seafood, and it’s a little bit expensive. So if we can bring the supply up, especially of a sustainably harvested seafood product, then that can allow the prices to go down a ittle bit, and that would allow more people to enjoy the super delicious and very nutritions lean protein source. I always think of oysters as one of the most sustainable and healthy-for-use proteins that’s out there. So more people, I think, should have access to that.

HOST:

Through the NC Oyster Trail, Harrison and her partners are helping to make sure that they do. And with 80 sites to choose from, Harrison has a hard time choosing a favorite, but she paints an enticing picture of what’s out there to explore.

HARRISON:

Well, definitely any of our shellfish farm tours. So one of my favorites, Ghost Fleet Oyster Company, they are out near Hampstead – central cost – and they just do a fabulous job taking you around, showing you what their life is like, being oyster farmers. They are, I think, maybe natural educators. I love hearing the stories of our shellfish growers. 

There’s another spot, Hooper Family Seafood, and they actually grow clams, and Mark Hooper and his wife, Penny, they have also been commercial fishers. So Mark goes out, he does crabbing, he harvests other kinds of seafood, but I love visiting where they live. They live in down East Carteret County, just a little bit further east than Beaufort. And it’s just breathtakingly beautiful to see where they are doing this work. Just to see the care that they take with their seafood and to hear their stories too, of what they’ve seen out in the water, the changes that are coming, both good and bad. I love to have that knowledge.

HOST:

To find out more about the NC Oyster Trail, check out the latest issue of CALS Magazine at magazine.cals.ncsu.edu or the trail’s website at nc oyster trail dot org to tailor your next oyster outing.

Thank you for joining us on Farms, Food and You, produced by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University. We hope you’ll be back to listen again next time, as we take a look at a new set of courses designed to open doors to diverse career options in the state’s meat processing industry.

About Jane Harrison

Jane Harrison is a coastal economics Extension specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant and a faculty member in North Carolina State University’s College of Natural Resources and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, where she teaches a course on rural economics. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in natural resources management from Oregon State University. Her work informs coastal decision makers at the intersection of sustainable use of ocean and coastal resources and economic development.

by DRIFT Staff on January 3, 2024 | Reprinted from DRIFT Travel

The NC Oyster Trail is an initiative in North Carolina, USA, aimed at promoting oyster tourism and education. This trail is not just a physical route but a network of experiences that include oyster farms, restaurants serving local oysters, educational tours, and festivals centered around oysters. It’s designed to provide visitors with a comprehensive understanding of the oyster industry in North Carolina, including the ecological importance of oysters, the process of oyster farming, and the culinary delights of eating oysters. The trail offers a unique opportunity to explore local communities, learn about sustainable aquaculture, and enjoy fresh, locally harvested oysters.

When you embark on the NC Oyster Trail, you can expect to discover the distinct flavors of the coast through a variety of homegrown oysters, each with its unique taste profile – from salty and sweet to buttery. Oyster Farm Tours are a highlight of the trail, providing an up-close look at the journey of oysters from tiny seeds to the delicacies served on your plate. These tours also educate visitors about the environmental and social impacts of oyster farming.

The trail is more than just a culinary adventure; it’s an effort to sustain and grow the supply and demand for North Carolina oysters, thereby benefiting the state’s seafood industry and coastal communities. This initiative also aims to increase public awareness about the importance of oysters for ecological balance, such as their role in water filtration and shoreline restoration.

Restaurants and markets along the trail offer a range of oyster dishes, from raw and steamed oysters to innovative recipes like Oysters Rockefeller and oyster shooters. Each participating location brings its unique twist to these dishes, often paired with a selection of wines and sauces to enhance the oyster-eating experience.

By participating in the NC Oyster Trail, visitors not only indulge in delicious seafood but also contribute to the state’s efforts in environmental conservation and supporting local economies.

For more detailed information and planning your visit, you can check out the official NC Oyster Trail website here.

by Megan Nichols on November 13, 2023 | Reprinted from The Outer Banks

Have you ever taken the time to consider where your seafood comes from? In North Carolina, we are immensely fortunate to have a thriving coast which offers fresh seafood ranging from locally caught fish to carefully grown oysters.

As lifelong North Carolina residents, we enjoy seafood and take pride in our state’s quality selection. We were excited to learn more about the efforts along our coast to participate in the ethical, sustainable farming of oysters.

If we relied solely on wild-caught oysters, we’d be doomed to only eat the shell-fish delicacy in the fall and winter seasons. Surviving half the year without oysters sounds like a nightmare to me! Thank goodness we have access to delicious oysters all year thanks to vigilant farmers.

In addition to ensuring our supply year round, oyster agriculture is beneficial to the environment. This sustainable form of farming enhances local ecosystems by restoring wild oyster populations and providing a safe habitat for other species to thrive.

The Outer Banks of North Carolina is home to the perfect environment for raising oysters and we had a chance to learn about the local oyster farms during a recent tour with Cape Hatteras Oyster Company. They, along with a few others, work day in and day out to bring fresh, delicious oysters to some of our favorite restaurants across the state.

Here are a few stops on The North Carolina Oyster Trail that you should know about:

Cape Hatteras Oyster Company

We were lucky enough to experience first hand what goes into the operations at Cape Hatteras Oyster Company. Their farm is located on Hatteras Island where they grow oysters, offer tours, and sell oysters onsite as well as wholesale. The father and son duo were clearly passionate about their farm and it was a pleasure to meet them and learn more about sustainable shellfish agriculture.

Slash Creek Oyster Farm

Also located on Hatteras Island, Slash Creek Oyster Farm provides fascinating tours of their farm and gives guests an opportunity to learn from the owners. Spurgeon Stowe has been a Hatteras resident for five generations and has expansive knowledge of oyster farming, fishing, and crabbing. During the tour, Spurgeon shares interesting stories from his life as an oyster-growing Hatterasman.

Smith Oyster Company

Located in Nags Head in the famous Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, Smith Oyster Company operates an oyster farm as well as a charter boat that guests can board to tour the farms and harvest their own oysters! It’s a great opportunity to get hands-on experience and leave with a tasty haul.

Hopefully the next time you indulge on deliciously salty local oysters, you’ll now have an idea of where they came from. We hope you’ll take the time to schedule a tour to see this magic in action for yourselves!

© 2023 NC Oyster Trail.