The skipjack became the State Boat of Maryland in 1985 and they are the last working boats under sail in the United States. In winter, fleets of skipjacks used to dredge oysters from the floor of the Chesapeake Bay. The decline of skipjacks is a mirror to the decline of oysters available to the marketplace, but oysters are still popular. According to the captain of the Wilma Lee, at one point in the past there were 1,000 skipjacks working the Bay – now there are currently 20 skipjacks operating and only 5 of them are still engaged in commercial activity. Modern fishing boats use various techniques to harvest oysters, such as mechanical patent tonging and power dredging, and there are now oyster farms around the Bay. The decline of the native oyster population can be attributed to several factors, including historic over-harvesting, disease and habitat loss. Oysters can legally be harvested recreationally (3+ inches, 100 per day, October 1 through March 31, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday: Sunrise through 12:00pm) and commercially. In 2020, MD Dept of Natural Resources in coordination with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science convened a restructured Oyster Advisory Commission to end overfishing and increase abundance.
Oysters clean the Bay, so perhaps it is best that there are less people eating them. But if you do, no matter how you get your oysters, at the local bar, market or yourself, it is now highly recommended to cook those oysters.
Why? CDC estimates that about 80,000 people get vibriosis—and 100 people die from it—in the United States every year. Most of these illnesses happen from May through October when water temperatures are warmer. However, you can get sick from eating raw or undercooked oysters during any month of the year, and raw oysters from typically colder waters also can cause vibriosis.
For shucked oysters, either:
- Boil for at least 3 minutes,
- Fry in oil for at least 3 minutes at 375°F,
- Broil 3 inches from heat for 3 minutes, or
- Bake at 450°F for 10 minutes.
Enjoy! See 19 Oyster Recipes That Rival Eating Them Raw