The world of oysters
Not many conferences start with a performance from a talking oyster, Sammy Spat, and a ‘fairy of the tidal flats’. If we were in any doubt beforehand we knew for sure at this point that the sixth International Oyster SymposiumIConference was something a little out of the ordinary.
This was the tenth anniversary of the World Oyster Society under whose auspices the conference was organised and the first time it had been held in North America, the previous ones having been staged in Japan, China, Taiwan, Australia and Vietnam.
The World Oyster Society has as its stated vision ‘to bring together the oyster people of the world for the benefit of mankind’. Cape Cod provided an excellent setting in being a most desirable travel destination but also located in the centre of the thriving oyster enterprise area of New England.
The conference opened at the prestigious Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, for the first day but the major part was based in a nearby resort hotel in West Falmouth.
A further novelty was that much of the conference involved expert panels covering themes such as improving the health of coastal waters, genetics towards longevity and productivity, climate change, disease and safety, propagation and growout, and restoration and community engagement.
The aim was to promote dialogue but this is difficult in a large hall and some of the expert panels were organised as a series of presentations. But there were some very interesting points raised anyway.
The predominant theme was restoration, this being an area where the US undoubtedly leads the world, with almost all coastal states having restoration programmes. What is new is the increasing emphasis given to oysters as a means of reducing nitrogen levels in water bodies.
Much of the immediate coastal area is dependent on septic tank systems, and there was considerable concern that oysters were being seen as a saviour species that allowed local communities to overlook the need to install costly sewage treatment systems.
Oysters are being seen by many as a short cut to nitrogen reduction when in reality the whole system is far more complex. What is equally of concern is the corollary that if oysters are associated with water cleansing rather than actual clean water, will that adversely affect the market for them?
The major difference in this conference from others I have attended in US was the presence of a big delegation from Japan. This introduced a totally new area of interest in the form of health benefits accruing from oysters.
These presentations mostly centred around the identification of a novel antioxidant, E6, isolated from the soft tissues of the Japanese oyster Crassostrea gigas. This has been
“The presence of a major delegation from Japan introduced a new area of interest in the form of health benefits”
identified as 3 ,5,-dihydroxy-4-methoxybenzyl alcohol and reported as having antioxidant properties far greater than either vitamin C or vitamin E.
This compound was also reported to be able to cross the blood brain barrier and to convey many benefits, from improving sleep uality to benefits in type 2 diabetes and preventing oxygen related brain disorders.
Much of this work emanated from the Watanabe oyster laboratory led by Professor Watanabe. Since the sleep improvements reported were a decrease in sleep disturbance from 8.5 per cent to 5.2 per cent, we may be wise to withhold further comment.
It was interesting to learn that American chefs are increasingly high profile and the apparently well-known Barton Seaver gave the opening address.
Chefs and food sellers in general have to be fluent in sustainability’, he said, referring to the book Blues’ by John Hersey (the hK e uivalent would perhaps be Kcean of Life’ by Callum Roberts). This catalogues the loss of fisheries but he was advocating that stories sell food, and shellfish can be presented as Heritage Seafood - providing a link to the past and to the future (with its sustainability).
The highlight of the conference was the rand Kyster Tasting organised by Bob Rheault, president of the East Coast Shellfish rowers Association. Eight chefs prepared oysters while teams of valiant shuckers provided copious uantities of excellent locally grown Crassostrea virginica and some Kumamoto oysters as well, served au naturel.
The dishes ranged from oysters served with a smoked corn and coconut curry foam, with pickled leeks topped with turmeric and baby cilantro, to devilled eggs with fried oysters (the recipe is apparently easily obtainable online ).
The trade show provided a great focus for shellfish growers. World Kyster Society president Dr Katsuyoshi Mori announced at the end that the next meeting will be held in 2017 in Bangor, North Wales.
Clockwise from top right: Eating oysters constituted a major part of the conference small scale hatchery on Martha’s Vineyard Dr Mori, founder of the World Kyster Society, with his wife They also serve who only stand and shuck oysters.... ...