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Marketing Gulf Oysters by Place Names

The Totten Inlet Virginica on the left comes from Washington State. It is marketed exclusively by Taylor Shellfish under strict quality controls and sells at oyster bars for around three dollars each. The oyster in the middle is a Texas select and it sells for under a dollar in an oyster bar. The oyster on the right is an Appalachicola oyster and it sells for a buck and half to two dollars.

The problem is, you can’t find Gulf oysters sold by place names in oyster bars. Gulf oystermen don’t market them that way. They sell a hundred muddy oysters in a canvas bag. There is a big tag that tells you where they come from, but if often reads something like: Lease Area 15.

Gulf oystermen resist the idea of selling oysters by place names. They claim that there is no point in marketing their oysters any better because no one is willing to pay more than the 18 to 20 cents apiece they are getting now. In my recent speech to the Louisiana Oyster Producers Association, I told them about Rodney’s Oyster Bar in Toronto selling Gulf oysters for nearly five dollars each a few years ago (you can read the whole story in my book Sex, Death & Oysters).

I arranged for Houston seafood dealer Jim Gossen to bring boxes of Canadian oysters for the Louisiana oystermen to take a look at. I was the lunch speaker, so I walked out into the audience and dropped these boxes of tiny East Coast oysters on their tables and told them to shuck some and see what they thought. Lots of these winter oysters were shriveled up and worthless. The Louisiana oyster fisherman couldn’t believe that people were paying three to four times more for these oysters than they were getting for bigger, fatter Gulf oysters.

Then I told them about Jim Gossen’s plan to start paying fisherman more for select Gulf oysters to be sold by place names. “If you want more money for your oysters, then give him a call,” I said.

I think I got their attention. We’ll see what happens.

1 comment to Marketing Gulf Oysters by Place Names

  • Emily Blunt Fox

    The marketing of oysters: it’s a great idea, and a needed one–especially with the current and future situation regarding Gulf Oysters. I’m trying to put together a project studying the effects of the FDA requirement for Post-Harvest Processing on Gulf Oysters during summer months on the Texas oyster industry as a whole. I’m reading your oyster book now, and I’d love to talk with you regarding my project and data collection.


    Emily Blunt Fox