[image-1] This Mon. Aug. 5 marks yet another national holiday — National Oyster Day. But this observance is about more than specially priced bivalves and happy hour deals. For our local oyster farmers, this is the beginning of an uphill battle culminating in a legislative throw-down for the mariculture industry.
This weekend, some Charleston restaurants are teaming up to help support local oyster farmers.
But first, some background:
This March, Lowcountry Oyster Co. farmer/owner Trey McMillan, along with other local oyster farmers, formed the “Save South Carolina Oysters” group. The grassroots campaign was started as an effort to fight against another group, Save Lowcountry Waterways, which was formed by residents who opposed specific aspects of the oyster farming industry.
[image-3]According to their website, Save Lowcountry Waterways fears that the proliferation of oyster farming “without intervention” will result in “acres of floating oyster cages … installed in our major creeks and rivers — permanently affecting the environment, wildlife, navigation, recreation, and beauty of the Lowcountry.” The group is proposing a change in state law so that there are strict stipulations for those applying for floating cage permits. They have yet to respond to our requests for comment.
On the flip side, the Save South Carolina Oysters campaign and the nonprofit, S.C. Shellfish Growers Association, have been working to spread awareness about the benefits of oyster farming. The oyster farmers and supporters say that in addition to the fully sustainable farms encouraging and attracting other wildlife and filtering the water, the industry also provides jobs to local and rural areas and brings in a substantial amount of money for the local economy.
According to an economic impact sheet compiled by the farmers, in 2018, oyster farms in Charleston reported to SCDNR that $645,423 worth of oysters were sold to local restaurants — y’all love your year-round oysters. Multiply this figure by $3.25, the average price oysters go for at restaurants, and that’s $2 million into the local economy.
Since their March petition went live, the Save South Carolina Oysters campaign has been able to obtain over 5,000 signatures of support; as of this week, they’re up to 7,361 signatures. A press release states, “While we have been quiet, we have not been sedentary in our efforts. Behind the scenes we take a proactive stance against those who want to see our industry shut down.”
The association says it needs to raise money for a legislative liaison to “advocate against legislation that would cripple the state’s mariculture industry.” This legislation is set to be introduced in Columbia this winter.
The S.C. Shellfish Growers Association’s first round of fundraising starts this weekend, Sat. Aug. 3 and runs through Mon. Aug. 5, National Oyster Day. Participating restaurants will donate 15 percent of their oyster sales to the nonprofit.
Participating restaurants (and their dates of participation) include:
Chubby Fish — Aug. 3
Royal Tern — Aug. 5
The Ordinary — Aug. 4
The Darling — Aug. 5
Nico — Aug. 4
Prohibition — Aug. 5