According to The Southern Maryland Chronicle, the ripple effect of restaurant closures and indoor capacity limits at eateries across the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area has decimated the oyster industry on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay.
For many who make a living off the Chesapeake Bay’s oysters, this past fall and winter have been a living nightmare.
Watermen in Maryland and Virginia say the problem isn’t supply but rather demand.
“We got lots of oysters, and they’re excellent quality,” said Bill Sieling, executive vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association, representing Maryland crab and oyster processors. “I’ve bought two bushels this fall, and I’ve never seen oysters this fat.”
The coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns and continuing restaurant restrictions have led to a decline of diners at restaurants. This has indirectly impacted the local seafood industry as oyster demand from restraunts has plummeted.
Market research firm NDP Group, which tracks 75 restaurant chains, warned transactions at major chains slumped 10% in December versus the same month one year ago.
Watermen on the bay are saying wild-caught bushels that wholesaled for $50 dockside in 2019 only brought $30 last year. Margins collapsed for watermen making many of their operations unprofitable and unsustainable as 2021 is another year of uncertainty.
“Come Oct. 1, the bottom just fell out of the market,” said Fred Tull, who raises oysters on 10 acres in the Little Annemessex River by Crisfield, MD. In mid-December, when holiday demand for shellfish is usually strong, he said, “I’ve got oysters to sell and no market.”
Mobjack Bay Seafood, a wholesaler of oysters in Ware Neck, Virginia, said sales were down 70% last year thanks to plummeting demand for oysters from restaurants.
The restaurant industry’s collapse is having indirect impacts on other industries that will persist through 2021.