More than 300 people turned out for the second annual Oyster Roast for Reason to benefit UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.
Guests feasted on roasted wild oysters and sampled raw, single oysters on the half shell provided by Savannah Clam Co. that originated at the UGA Oyster Hatchery on Skidaway Island in Savannah. Sponsors of the event came from as far as Atlanta.
“Anything we can do to spotlight what’s happening on our coast is important for growing the (oyster) industry in the state,” said Bryan Rackley, co-owner of Kimball House restaurant in Decatur, Ga., and co-founder of Oyster South, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing aquaculture in the southern U.S. “There’s so much upside across the board to improving oyster aquaculture. From the environment to the economy; everybody benefits.”
Guests received commemorative oyster shuckers and pint glasses. Many watched Georgia defeat Auburn in the SEC championship game, shown on a big screen television set up on the bluff behind the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium. Music was provided by American Hologram, a Savannah favorite.
The event is designed to raise awareness of the hatchery, which has been growing oysters from larvae since 2015. When the spat (baby oysters) grow to roughly the size of a pencil eraser they are given to shellfish farmers on the Georgia coast, who cultivate them to maturity.
Money raised by the roast supports the hatchery.
“Our plan is to purchase additional larval tanks, water storage tanks and other equipment that will allow us to increase production in the hatchery,” said Tom Bliss, director of the Shellfish Research Lab, a part of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.
In 2017, the hatchery produced between 1,500,000 and 2,100,000 spat, exceeding the needs of the developing industry. Just over 500,000 spat were planted by shellfish growers, with a potential harvest value of $125,000 to $250,000. Interest in farming oysters continues to rise as changes in regulation are anticipated to occur.
Proceeds from Oyster Roast for a Reason will help the Shellfish Lab move closer to the goal to produce 15 million spat, with harvest valued between $3 million and $7.5 million. Some of the money raised also will support a 12-week internship for a college student, who will work in the hatchery and on research projects focused on testing new equipment and methods to make oyster farming easier for growers.