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Aquaculture oysters go through many steps before they can make it to the plate. To see the various steps it takes to grow some of the best aquaculture oysters around... Read More
Ward Oyster Co. is currently solely an oyster farm. It is a totally self sustaining seafood company. Ward Oyster Co. produces it's seed oysters from adult oysters, thereby not putting any pressure on the depleted natural wild oysters. Ward Oyster Co.'s activities not only enhance the environment we all respect and enjoy, but it also plays a role in the cleaning of the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways. Ward Oyster Co.'s methods of harvest, grading and cleaning of equipment and shipping are all done in as eco-friendly a way as is currently possible.
Due to Ward Oyster Co.'s unique location on a large sandbar in the mouth of the Ware River, it's oysters have a distinctive and exquisite taste taken from it's surroundings. On incoming tides, the waters of the Mobjack Bay are accelerated and forced to run over the area where our cages are, creating excellent growing conditions with the pristine waters of the Mobjack Bay as their primary food source. The year round salinity of the Mobjack Bay averages 15 to 23 parts per thousand, which gives the oysters a sweet and salty taste without being overpowering. Their taste beckons you to have another! You can check out our review page for customer feedback or to place your own review.
Ward Oyster Co. was formed in 1986 by John & Floyd Ward of Deltaville, VA. At the time Ward Oyster Co. bought and sold wild oysters from Virginia watermen. In 1988 the original owners added clams purchased from local watermen to it's product line. In 1989 John Vigliotta relocated to Virginia from New York and joined the Ward's in their company to assist in the sales department. In 1991 John Vigliotta took over full ownership of Ward Oyster Co.
John's vision for the company was to pursue clam and oyster aquaculture, in addition to the wild products. As Ward Oyster Co. pursued the growing of both clams and oysters it soon became evident that the oyster aquaculture was the best fit for Ward's location on the Ware River and Mobjack Bay. Based on John's desire to do aquaculture, he formed a sister company called Mobjack Bay Seafood, Inc. This company took over all wild clam and oyster purchases as well as distribution for both companies products. Both companies, although completely separate entities, operate out of the same location in Ware Neck, VA. You can check out Mobjack Bay Seafood, Inc. at www.mobjackbayseafood.com. This spin off allowed Ward Oyster Co. to focus all of it's efforts on aquaculture and the oyster farm.
Ward Oyster Co. has, since 2003, diverted all of it's aquaculture activities to raising only oysters. Today they are one of the largest cage aquaculture farms in Virginia, selling farm raised oysters all over the United States. Ward Oyster Co.'s plan for the future is to continue the expansion of the oyster farm by adding an oyster hatchery in 2012, enabling them to produce their own oyster seed for the oyster farm.
While continuing the expansion of the oyster farm, Ward Oyster Co. has become increasingly aware that the location of it's farm has given their oysters a unique taste. Raw half shell and cooked oysters from Ward Oyster Co. are fast becoming the first choice for many seafood distributors and restaurants locally and nationwide.
Aquaculture oysters go through many steps before they can make it to the plate. Please take a look below at the various steps it takes to grow some of the best aquaculture oysters around.
Growing oysters is a multi-step process which requires a lot of handling and labor. It all starts with two to five hundred adult oysters. These oysters are conditioned artificially to create conditions where the oysters will naturally spawn. This is accomplished by slowly raising the water temperature artificially to the temperature at which the oysters will spawn. This is at approximately 70 degrees F. Each oyster is capable of spawning many millions of oysters.
Once the oysters are spawned the next step is to take eggs and sperm and put them in tanks where they turn to oyster larvae. They stay in these tanks for about 21 days where they are fed specific algae which is grown with lights to be fed to the larvae. After 21 days the larvae are put in new setting tanks, where the larvae attach to very small pieces of oyster shell (approx. ½ millimeter). The setting process takes about 3 to 6 days, then these small oysters continue to grow while being fed the algae that we grow.
The next step is to take 1 millimeter oysters and place them outside in land based upweller tanks which allow ambient river water with natural algae to flow past the small oysters. The oysters feed off the natural algae and grow.
After about a month, when the oysters get to about ¼ inch we put them in a floating upweller, which is in the Ware River. In this system we are able to increase the water flow considerably at a low cost. This increases the growth of the oysters faster than we could do on land. At this point the oyster is about 2 to 2 ½ months old.
In the next step the oysters in the floating upweller are graded regularly. The oysters that are 5/8 inch and larger are removed and placed in ½" by ½" cages, which are placed on the river bottom in our special grow out location in the Ware River. Here they stay for up to 6 months. Then they are again graded. The oysters over 1 ½ inches in size are removed and placed in larger 1" by 1" cages. The smaller oysters are put back in the ½" by ½" cages for further growth.
The larger 1" by 1" cages is the final step before market. Once again after about 6 months the oysters are graded. At this time the market size oysters are removed, washed and graded for shipping to market. The undersized or smaller oysters are redeployed for further grow out.
As you can see there is much handling and grading of the oysters throughout their growth to market size. Not all oysters grow at the same rate. When mixed together the larger oysters actually out compete the smaller oysters for food and grow faster. Therefore, it is important to grade oysters to keep them uniform in each step. Also, some oysters can remain in a particular step for one to three grading processes.
Overall, it is possible for the fastest growing oysters to make it to market in one to one and a quarter years. Yet, some may take up to three years. So, as you can see, having an oyster farm is a lot of work! Our biggest expenses are labor and equipment. The end result is an eco-friendly delicacy for your palette.
Tours are available to schools, elected officials or other groups by appointment for educational purposes. Hope we have given you an idea of how the farm works at Ward Oyster Co!