BYH, I just moved to Greenville with my lovely wife and two precious children and a dog. I was so happy when the...

There will always be an oyster

Bob Garner

Bob Garner


Sunday, October 7, 2018

It’s no surprise. The rest of the 2018 oyster season, extending on into 2019, will likely be a disaster for North Carolina natural harvesters and cultivators.

In addition to the loss of human life, loss of homes, and loss of any sense of normal existence wrought by Hurricane Florence, chalk up loss of livelihood. Ring up millions of dollars in ruined equipment and seed stock for oyster farmers.

Those with a license to harvest wild oysters won’t suffer the same investment losses, but the destruction of their means of earning a living is no less complete. Bacterial contamination and excessive amounts of fresh rainwater dumped by Florence, which decreased the necessary salinity of tidal waterways, have closed too many oyster beds.

The oysters might have survived the pollution over time, since they naturally filter out a lot of contamination, but probably not this relative scarcity of salt water as well.

Cultivated oysters are normally grown to full size in floating wire mesh boxes. Those oyster farmers who tried to temporarily anchor their seed oysters (‘spats’) to the bottom to keep these boxes from being blown or pitched onto dry land or marsh grass ended up having their crop buried under four feet of mud.

Ruination of the oysters comes from either lack of oxygen beneath sediment or exposure to the open air. Protective efforts or lack of them seem to have had virtually identical results.

Definitive assessment of total oyster mortality won’t even be possible for several more weeks, but the experts seem universally pessimistic.

None of this means that oysters harvested elsewhere in America’s eastern, southern and western coastal waters will not be available in North Carolina. It just means that our state’s home-grown share of the oysters consumed here will shrink from an already very modest 25 percent to probably less than five percent for the foreseeable future.

North Carolina has tried mightily to both restore wild oyster reefs and expand oyster cultivation in recent years. The state has made progress, for example, in beginning to catch up to neighboring Virginia, where both the wild and cultivated oyster industries far outpace ours. But thanks to Florence, the gap will widen once again.

All this is especially deflating for the near future because so many experts say that with good management, North Carolina could well become the “Napa Valley of Oysters.” Under anything close to normal weather patterns, the diverse waters of our relatively shallow sounds and tidal tributaries should produce oysters with rich variation in flavors and finishes.

As far as we know, that potential should only be delayed, not destroyed. But who knows what future slow moving and rain drenching storms may be spawned by climate change? The effects of any future Atlantic hurricanes like Florence will likely be the same here.

Oh well. The Sunny Side Oyster Bar in Williamston is open for business and serving New Jersey oysters. The Boiler Room Oyster Bar in Kinston has Gulf oysters and, surprisingly, some Core Sound oysters as well. Those of us who want to buy oysters by the bushel for roasting over the holidays will undoubtedly be able to find some from other states, although they’ll be pricey.

We might as well accept that a bleak spirit or giving up oyster consumption out of empathy does no one any good in itself and only harms oyster sellers. The world may not be our oyster right now, but let’s enjoy whatever oysters we can find, from whatever source, in the months ahead. Through that feast, let’s nourish the expectation that our own state’s oyster will yet emerge and shine.

Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Contact him at bgarner2662@gmail.com. Visit this column on reflector.com for video from Bob about Mike’s Farm the Back Swamp community near Beulaville.


Humans of Greenville


Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.


October 14, 2018

I was a proud Boy Scout and Scout leader but had lost touch with the program.

However, my youngest grandson’s excitement over having just been signed up for Cub Scouts happened to open a window on some truly monumental changes in the Scouting world. Like me, you may have missed them.


Bob Garner

October 14, 2018

Last month’s flooding from Hurricane Florence brought such bad news to New Bern and its neighboring cities, towns and communities.

There is a little bit of good news for New Bern this month.

The town’s best-selling author, Nicholas Sparks, is releasing a new book, “Every Breath.…


October 13, 2018

I was standing along the suburban Washington waterfront a couple of years ago when a Spanish galleon showed up, proving once again that if you wait long enough, everything comes full circle.

This is especially true in the gardening world. Houseplants, embraced by hirsute, plaid-draped baby boomers…


October 12, 2018

Imagine, if you will ...

A mermaid,

A crocodile,

A flock of yellow birds,

An island, 

and Tinkerbell

In a prequel to the famous story of Peter Pan.

“Who doesn’t want to know where Peter Pan came from?” said Patch Clark, director of ECU’s Loessin Playhouse production of…


October 10, 2018

A shout-out to all who will join the 2018 Holiday Challenge!

I was happy that Pitt County folks participated but disappointed to learn that in 2017 Pitt County was down to 287 participants. We usually have more than 300 join in this free fun that benefits personal health and wellness.


October 10, 2018

There is nothing more beautiful than a sunrise or sunset, watching the sky come alive with energy or winding its way down for the day. And, there is nothing more beautiful than driving down 10th Street and being greeted by the bright orange Hot Light outside Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. For many, myself…

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October 07, 2018

It’s no surprise. The rest of the 2018 oyster season, extending on into 2019, will likely be a disaster for North Carolina natural harvesters and cultivators.

In addition to the loss of human life, loss of homes, and loss of any sense of normal existence wrought by Hurricane Florence, chalk…

Bob Garner

October 07, 2018

“You’d better be careful,” my wonderful seventh-grade teacher, Miss Winifred Potts, preached to my class more than 65 years ago.

Miss Potts had a set of strategies to encourage us to behave, in and out of class. To discourage mischief-making while she was writing math problems on…


October 05, 2018

There is something oddly familiar about Florence Ungar and Olive Madison. Their names don't necessarily ring a bell, but the sloppy sports fan and neurotic neatnik are reminiscent of a couple of characters most people have seen before.

But prettier.

Leann Rafferty and Michelle Pittman star in the…


October 03, 2018

Q: I have been taking a medicine to treat heartburn. I have heard that might not be a great idea anymore and that there can be some long-term consequences for taking them. What can I do to naturally reduce or treat my heartburn? — L.J.C., Winterville

A: I asked Kathryn Clary, a second-…

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