Happy hour oysters: Here's where they come from


If you're one of those people always searching for "$1 oysters near me" or who can't wait for that day of the week when "happy hour oysters" are on special, take a look at how some of those oysters end up on your seafood tower.

North Carolina is home to what are arguably the best oysters in the world. In fact, the state is known as the "Napa Valley of oysters" thanks to open-water oyster farms along the N.C. Oyster Trail. But a lot of oysters, as well as other shellfish like clams and mussels, are still harvested from the wild by independent commercial fishers.

North Carolina’s commercial fishing fleet is mostly made up of small crews who work on modest-size boats. Most boats represent family businesses that have been passed down through the generations. Crews are often related. Wooden boats and fishing gear are typically built and maintained by local families. Seafood packing houses – better known as “fish houses” – are deeply rooted in communities.

Commercial shellfishers, like Ana Shellem of Wrigthsville Beach, N.C., often work alone on small flat-bottomed boats known as skiffs.

These commercial fishers carefully hand-pick oysters or hand-dig for clams and mussels. They might use a rake for clams. After a morning on the water, they drive the catch to restaurants and fish houses that same day to make sure you have fresh oysters by happy hour.

Some commercial fishers still use labor-intensive tongs for oysters. The wooden tongs look like two garden rakes held together like scissors. Fishers lower the 7-foot or longer tongs into the water until the tongs reach oysters. Then, fishers close the tongs around the oysters and lift them to the boat.

Hand-tonging oysters is such hard work that the centuries-old method was once called the “widow maker.” You wouldn’t know it by watching Down East fisherman Tanner Lynk as the 28-year-old preserves this important piece of North Carolina commercial fishing history. Check it out in this story from WRAL-TV in Raleigh.

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