A finalist in the Real Food Media Contest, The Oyster Men features the daily lives of baymen who handpick oysters from wild populations on the Long Island Sound. The short film was created by Show Love, which, through creative media, features companies, organizations, and individuals doing good for the food system, focusing on originality and problem-solving.
The film reveals the hard work involved in sustainably harvesting oysters from the sea. The resurgence of a high-quality, wild population of oysters on the Long Island Sound has allowed enterprising second- and third-generation baymen to make a living by scuba-diving for oysters and selling them nationally. The work is difficult and dangerous, requiring divers to be underwater for up to eight hours a day; but it is one of the most sustainable ways to obtain oysters.
Handpicking oysters causes less ecological disturbance than raking, which creates a larger catchment but disrupts plant and animal populations. Handpicking also allows the divers to choose only the larger oysters (more than three inches in diameter), which leaves younger ones to keep growing. Oyster populations stabilize eroding coastlines and filter seawater, representing valuable ecosystem services that can be preserved by harvesting oysters sustainably.
Mariculture, the farming of oysters on the sea floor or in bay systems, is much more common than both handpicking and raking, due to the rarity of wild oyster populations. Farming oysters is environmentally benign compared to most seafood practices, but the product doesn’t have the same taste as a wild oyster, due to differences in salinity and culture. Mariculture can reduce pressure on our remaining wild oyster populations and restore waterways; researchers believe that oyster reef restoration in the Chesapeake Bay could reduce nitrogen pollution drastically and repair dead zones.
Sustainable management of wild populations is all the more important in the context of ocean acidification, which poses high economic risk to coastal communities in the United States. A new report by the National Resources Defense Council found that fishing communities in 15 states are at high risk from acidification, which is a direct result from carbon dioxide pollution. “Ocean acidification has already cost the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest nearly $110 million, and jeopardized about 3,200 jobs,” said Julia Ekstrom, a lead author of the report. Combining acidification projection data, social factors such as pollution controls, and economic contribution of shellfish, the researchers were able to map the overall risks posed to coastal communities by ocean acidification.
Show Love’s film reveals how sustainable management of wild populations can serve our own seafood production needs, while restoring ecosystem services to our damaged watersheds threatened by both pollution and ocean acidification. The full version of the film is called The Oyster Divers of Long Island Sound.
Other films by Show Love have featured food projects such as Edible Schoolyard and restaurants such as Haven’s Kitchen in New York, focusing on how these approaches are different from conventional models. Films for specific companies, such as Craft Coffee, Sackets Harbor Brewing Co., and Alteri Bakery, similarly feature creative business models through a focus on solutions to food system problems. Finally, a film about a cotton farmer in rural Arkansas reveals agricultural traditions of the South.