‘That’s a good oyster’Published 9:55pm Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Flanked by Ben Johnson and Billy Moore of Johnson and Sons Seafood, Terry McAuliffe tipped back the shell and felt the Nansemond River oyster slide over his taste buds.
“That’s a good oyster,” Virginia’s governor declared.
McAuliffe and wife Dorothy were entertaining guests under a tent on the front drive of the executive mansion. It was a launch party for the Virginia Oyster Trail, a new map guiding folks to the state’s premier oyster regions.
On what would have been a rare day off during oyster season, Johnson and Moore were representing Tidewater, one of the seven regions. One outfit for each region formed a circle under the tent with their iced trays before them.
He and Moore were there at the invitation of the Virginia Seafood Council, Johnson said, adding that they pulled the 200 oysters they were instructed to bring from the river on Monday.
“We rinsed them off and brought them up here,” Johnson said. “My biggest interest was the promotion of the oyster in general — not specifically my product.”
Guests inhaled the salty scent of fresh oysters, which were matched with a wine from each region.
“It’s tough being governor — we’ve got to drink wine at 9 o’clock in the morning,” McAuliffe joked.
The morning soiree served a second purpose: McAuliffe announced an executive order proclaiming November as Virginia Oyster Month.
Why all the fuss over oysters? According to the administration, the delicacy (for many, at least) is going from strength to strength in the commonwealth.
In 2013, Virginia’s oyster harvest increased by 25 percent, which was the most in nearly a generation.
“We have brought the oyster back from almost total collapse,” McAuliffe said.
He noted the $22-million dockside value of 2013’s more than 500,000 bushels of oysters harvested in Virginia, up from $16 million in 2012.
“They serve an invaluable function of filtering the water of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” McAuliffe added.
While the oyster trail brands Virginia as the East Coast’s oyster capital, nationally, it’s third behind Alaska and Louisiana.
“You guys have a new challenge,” said McAuliffe, who wants to see Virginia climb into the No. 1 spot, the new tourism-promoting trail boosting things along.
“As we move forward, I want everybody eating oysters every single day, I want you drinking Virginia wines every single day, because it’s great for your health and it’s great for the economic vitality of Virginia,” McAuliffe said.
First lady Dorothy McAuliffe said that the trail, developed with the cooperation of several state government agencies, industry groups and local tourism boards, will be “a great thing for families to take advantage of.”
She pointed to Virginia’s long history with oysters, which were traded in Jamestown as early as 1607.
“People will get to learn about one of the longest-continuing industries in our state,” she said.
Trail details are online at www.virginia.org/oysters.