Written by: Natalie Kayton, Seattle Fish Co. Salmon & Shellfish Purchaser
Seattle Fish Co. is proud to partner with Rappahannock Oyster Company, a well-known oyster farm located in Chesapeake Bay. Of course, they are known for their nation-wide restaurants and being the growers of Seattle Fish Co.’s delicious proprietary oysters (Larimer Points & Maroon Bells), but they are also leading aqua culturists for the seafood industry. Rappahannock is paving the way in sustainability.
Travis & Ryan Croxton, cousins and co-owners, inherited the company from their great-grandfather in 2001. The industry at that time was next to nothing. Through trial and error, they ultimately created a large science project that myself and Savanna Ronco (SFC’s Marketing & Brand Specialist) had the pleasure of visiting.
Prior to visiting Virginia to tour the farm, I learned about their positive impact through “A Geography of Oysters” – a great read for any oyster lover. The book explains how at the end of the nineteenth century, the Chesapeake Bay was one of the world’s most prolific regions for wild oysters. But to a fault. In the 1800s, it was producing in excess of 20 million bushels a year – a large number even by contemporary standards. By the 1960s, the land was dry due to decades of overharvesting, disease, and dredging that had destroyed the natural reefs. Oysters were next to join the Endangered Species List.
However, the Croxton’s refused to give up on the Chesapeake Bay native oyster. They knew they could grow Crassostrea virginica oysters, the only oyster legally allowed to grow on the East Coast. The team shared with Savanna and I how it really was (and still is!) a large science experiment. It all started with learning the best growing techniques by studying different farms around the world.
After inheriting the leases, they turned to aquaculture and began using ‘off-bottom’ and ‘floating’ cages to leave a near-invisible footprint. Rappahannock Oyster Company was inspired by a small contingent of local retirees who were using “off bottom aquaculture.” This method floats the oysters in cages above the surface, where they are off the muddy seafloor and closer to better food and oxygen.
From spat to right before being turned into a dozen on the half shell, oysters inherently clean the water around them in the process of growing. They “filter feed” by eating the excess nutrients in the water (namely nitrogen and phosphorus). Virginia’s nutrient rich waters create oysters that span the entire salt spectrum, from subtly sweet to jarringly briny.
Rappahannock can produce a varied blend because they have two farm locations which are 165 miles from each other. Our proprietary oysters are farmed in different sites, and you can undoubtedly taste the difference. Rappahannock grows our Maroon Bells oysters in Topping, Virginia – creating a sweet and buttery taste with a refreshingly clean, crisp finish. Our Larimer Points are grown in Chincoteague, Virginia – or the truest taste of the ocean, briny with a smooth, clean follow-through.
Rappahannock Oyster Company works with their environment, because they understand the oysters’ health is inextricably tied with the health of the Bay. They write on their website:
“And so, rather than attempt to control our environment, we look to the natural process to help guide our process. That means studying and leveraging the natural rhythms and listening when nature pushes back, because in the end, we’re hoping to increase nature, not tame it.”
Rappahannock created a healthier aquatic environment for the Chesapeake Bay. They re-established an industry and territory that was otherwise depleted. Due to the effort of Rappahannock, the Bay’s oyster would reclaim its place among one of the greatest oysters of the world. Virginia would yet again become a leader in oyster production. Seattle Fish Co. is a proud distributor of Rappahannock Oysters, receiving fresh shipments every three days and delivering all throughout the Rocky Mountain region.
Seattle Fish Company’s Maroon Bell and Larimer Points oysters are an order away for you to enjoy, in both 12 and 100 count (codes: 127, 127Z, 129, 129Z). Talk to your sales rep to place your order or search these codes on our Seattle Fish app!
Video sharing the farm tour is linked here!