Alaska Grows its Oyster Harvest
Eight years ago, Greg and Weatherly Bates left their oyster farm in Georges River, Maine, and headed west for the even-colder waters of Alaska’s Kachemak Bay.
“There were very few established oysters farms here then,” Weatherly Bates says, as she waits for a platter of her progeny to be served for lunch at The Saltry restaurant at Halibut Cove on a sunny day in mid-summer. “They were mainly hobby farmers, and we worked with them—about six in all—for the oyster coop.”
Today, the Bates do their farming in 22 watery acres in which they grow oysters and, more recently, mussels – a welcome addition to the Alaska seafood menu. With 300,000 harvested annually, their Glacier Point oysters are now marketed throughout the United States. “We harvest year around on every Monday and Thursday,” Bates says, “then we ship to Anchorage.”
One of the distributors of Glacier Point oysters is East Coast based Pangea Shellfish Company, whose online site describes the Bates’ oysters as “refreshingly crisp and salty with a cucumber finish,” which seems like a fine description when our oysters come, decorated by chef Adam Walker with colorful petunias.
Glacier Points are less than 3 inches in size and vary in saltiness between winter — when their watery bed is at its most-salty, and summer — when the salinity of the sea is tempered by fresh-water glacier melt. Water temperature in Kachemak Bay can get to 50 F degrees, Bates says, too cold for East Coast oysters, which need about it to be about 60 F degree.
There is also a lot of local excitement that the Bates are also growing mussels, the only commercial mussels farmed in Alaska. Both mussels and oysters are on the menu at The Saltry, a favorite dining spot for locals and tourists alike.