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This Saturday thousands will gather in to consume an unheard of amount of oysters. It’s an annual Humboldt tradition, and in this LoCO Video Report we see how one local oyster farm is gearing up for the big day. (Plus, we get to throw back some raw kumamotos).
Growing, harvesting, drilling, brushing, washing, knocking and packaging oysters is a daily occurrence for Coast Seafoods in Eureka, which runs the largest oyster farm in Humboldt Bay.
“We annually farm 500 to 600 thousand dozen kumamotos a year, the majority in the country come from Humboldt Bay,” said Coast Seafoods southwest operations manager, Greg Dale. “And between 30 and 60 thousand gallons of Pacific oysters.”
Whoa, that’s a lot of oysters. Do the math — that’s over, seven million kumamotos per year to be exact. Maybe that’s why Humboldt’s earned the reputation of the “oyster capital of California.” But running an operation like this is no easy task. It takes 70 employees working crazy hours seven days a week.
Dale says, “Oyster farming is just that, farming. A lot of work and manual labor, physical work, day and night activity and then we work around the tides. So we spend a lot of time in the wintertime at night, and summertime early in the morning.”
Coast Seafoods larvae and seed comes from hatcheries in Washington and Oregon and is grown in Humboldt Bay using off bottom culture techniques, which is said to be environmentally friendly while producing a premium product. But it can take anywhere from 18 months up to four years to reach harvestable size. Dale likes to note that Humboldt Bay’s water quality is what plays a key role in the oysters consistency and smooth delicate flavor.
“In Humboldt Bay you can eat a raw oyster out of this bay between 340 and 320 days a year. So very few days of the year is the bay closed where you can’t eat a raw protein product out of the bay,” he says. “Which says a lot about this bay and the people who protect the water.”
Now, with all that being said, they’re kicking things into even higher gear than usual for this weekend’s 27th annual Arcata Bay Oyster Festival hosted by Arcata Main Street. They’re even harvesting early Friday morning to have the freshest oysters ready-to-go on Saturday. Coast Seafoods will have its own booth with the Fortuna Women’s Group selling kumamotos, but it’s also supplying oysters to many of the other vendors.
Dale says that will equal out to between 3,500 to 3,800 dozen, which is at least 42,000 oysters just for this one event. And that doesn’t even include what Humboldt’s other oyster farms are bringing.
Seems extreme, but according to Arcata Main Street every year more than 13,000 people attend the event, and that it’s the largest oyster festival on the west coast.
So if you want to slurp down some local delicacies this weekend — if you go raw, whatever you do, just don’t even think about pouring out the natural liquid inside the oyster, it’s an essential part of the experience and is referred to as oyster liquor — or just have a good ol’ time celebrating Humboldt County culture, then you’ll want to be at the Historic Arcata Plaza this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:30. See ya there!
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