The Big O: Oyster Farming Hits Southern Waters


Published:

“The time has come… to talk of many things:”

Actually, let’s just skip all that stuff about shoes and ships and sealing wax and cut right to the chase. This story is about Crassostrea virginica. That’s right—we’re talkin’ oysters. Or more specifically, oyster farming. Yep, it’s not just for livestock anymore.

“We’ve been out on this river our whole lives.”

Andrew and Austin Harter know a little about the subject. Although they hail from Orangeburg, South Carolina—a two-hour drive, give or take, down the familiar I-95 South corridor—this stretch of coastline has become something of a second home for the brothers. In fact, a majority of the Harter family vacations were spent right here on the May River, a swath of salty, opaque water that carves its pronged path through historic Bluffton. It was also here that the boys learned to navigate the river’s many narrow channels, predict the shifting tides, and of course, pick oysters. So, what are two guys to do, with a wealth of saltwater knowledge under their belt and a trained pair of sealegs? Well. They’re not going to start hosting Avon parties. 

“We’ve been out on this river our whole lives,” says Andrew. He’s behind the wheel of the Harter’s May River Oyster Company boat, instinctively steering around the marshy grasses on a hot June afternoon.

He detours here and there, pointing out a few of the area’s more wild habitants going about their day on the water, the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse rising up in the distance. “Now, we’re doing something that we love, and also helping to keep the natural population from being depleted again in the future.”

Our oysters have been a longtime favorite for locals and visitors alike, and it’s not hard to see why. Oysters, Austin explains, are sensitive, “site-specific” creatures, often bending to the whims of Mother Nature and molding their flavor profile based on the elements of their surroundings. That salty, briny punch you taste every time you shuck and slurp down a local mollusk? Thank our brackish seawaters. But while traditional wild oyster beds—the ones you spot jutting out from the pluff mud during low tide—are tightly packed, forcing the shellfish to grow upwards in a battle for food and sunlight, these babies are given all the lounging room they need.

“We want to keep growing, keep giving people the local oysters they love while protecting our waters. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

“We like to let our oysters really ‘spread their wings,’” he explains. “Basically, instead of having to all grow in one direction, they can go 360 degrees. People want that deep, round cup shape, they want that good meat in a hard shell that won’t go to mush when they shuck it. That’s what you get with our May River Cups.”

Admittedly, the brothers killed a lot of oysters on the first go-round in 2015 (Austin ballparks around a couple hundred thousand sacrificed so far), but now in their second season, they seem to have perfected the formula. The May River Oyster Company has some 50 traps dropped down in their namesake waters as well as the surrounding Cooper River and Bull Creek, distinctly designated by a series of brightly colored buoys bobbing in the current. Off-season, the Harters spend anywhere from five to six hours a day cranking up cages, splitting, sifting and shifting larger oysters around to allow the smaller ones to flourish.

But when the fall hits and it’s time to start filling orders for local restaurants on Palmetto Bluff and Savannah’s own dockside bar, The Wyld, don’t be surprised if the pair is out harvesting before dawn and back after dusk. It’s no glamorous affair, what with the bottom of their flat-bottomed vessel caked with dried pluff and crawling with a few hangers-on crabs lifted from the river floor. Two pairs of white rubber boots—at least they used to be white—are propped upside down near the boat’s rim, at the ready for the times they jump ship to collect a few wild oysters from the marsh. No, it’s not fancy. But it is a true testament to the Harters’ dedication to their craft, the chance to preserve one of the South’s most beloved and traditional seafood delicacies. And besides, they’re springing for a new rig soon.

“It used to be that an oyster was an oyster,” Andrew says. “Now, people are becoming more interested in oysters. They want to know where their food comes from, why it tastes this way or that way. We want to keep growing, keep giving people the local oysters they love while protecting our waters. It’s a win-win for everyone.” 

To learn more about the South's best oysterssubscribe now or pick up the August/September issue of South magazine. 

Edit ModuleShow Tags

South's Greatest Photographers 2018

We're looking for the greatest, most creative photographers. If that is you, or you know of any, don't hesitate to nominate!

South's Greatest Kids Contest 2017

When it comes to cute, the kids of the South are all way above average! Share the cuteness and nominate your kids today.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Events Calendar

  • Charleston Cars & Coffee

    Jun 17, 2017
    7:30 AM - 10:00 AM @ Mount Pleasant Towne Centre

    7:30am - 10:00am  FREE ADMISSION  Mount Pleasant Towne Centre,1712 Towne Centre Way,Mt Pleasant, SC 29464,USA A bunch of car and...

  • Charleston Farmers Market

    Jun 17, 2017
    8:00 AM - 2:00 PM @ Marion Square

    8:00am - 2:00pm  FREE ADMISSION  Marion Square,329 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403,USA Join us every Saturday in beautiful Marion...

  • PRETTY IN PUNK: Images from the Punk Rock Era

    Sep 21, 2017
    10:00 AM - 6:00 PM @ PULP

    PULP time travels back to the 70s with The Ramones, Blondie, The Germs, The Sex Pistols, The Go-Go's, Patty Smith and more -- on stage and back...

  • FAAA Members Small Works Exhibition

    Oct 05, 2017
    10:00 AM - 5:00 PM @ Jepson Center

    Telfair Museums presents the first-ever exhibition at the Jepson Center by the artist members of the museum’s Friends of African American Arts...

  • Kirk Varnedoe: In the Middle at the Modern

    Sep 22, 2017
    10:00 AM - 5:00 PM @ Jepson Center

    Can you have an art exhibition without any artworks? Is a curator an artist? Who or what decides an object’s value? Through the lens of an art...

  • Pumpkin Festival @ Stone Mountain

    Sep 29, 2017
    10:30 AM - 5:00 PM

    1000 Robert E Lee Blvd, Stone Mountain, GA 30083 10:30am - 5:00pm Adventure Pass Meal Deal - (adults/children) - $31.95 (online) Take in...

  • Gullah GeeChee Festival

    Oct 21, 2017
    11:00 AM - 10:00 PM @ Rousakis Riverfront Plaza

    Rousakis Riverfront Plaza, Savannah, GA 31401 11:00am - 10:00pm on Saturday, 11:00am- 6:00pm Sunday  The Gullah GeeChee Festival will take...

  • God on Broadway:Aladdin

    Oct 22, 2017
    11:15 AM - 12:00 PM @ Asbury Memorial UMC

    As part of the popular God on Broadway series, Asbury Memorial UMC will present a special worship service featuring excerpts from the Broadway...

  • Polo for Charity Event

    Oct 22, 2017
    12:00 PM - 4:00 PM @ Rose Hill Equestrian Center

    Enjoy a Lowcountry afternoon of polo, tailgating, divot stomping and plenty of fun for the whole family at the 24th Polo for Charity event on...

  • Artists invited to submit to Southeast's biggest art competition

    Oct 02, 2017
    12:00 AM - 5:00 PM @ Artists from 12 Southeastern states noted above

    All Southeastern artists are invited to submit their work to ArtFields®, which has emerged as the region’s largest art competition and...

  • Lean Ensemble Theater presents Constellations

    Oct 22, 2017
    2:00 PM - 4:00 PM @ Main Street Theatre

    Lean Ensemble Theater presents Nick Payne’s hit Broadway love story Constellations. Talkbacks with Lean Ensemble members following each...

  • Party at the Point!

    Jun 16, 2017
    5:30 PM - 9:00 PM @ Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina

    5:30pm-9:00pm  Charleston Harbor Resort,20 Patriots Point Road,Mount Pleasant, SC 29464,USA COST: $7 Join us every Friday at the Charleston...

  • ALJ Monday Night Ceramics

    Jun 12, 2017
    6:00 PM

    Students will learn how to build ceramic sculptures as well as hand crafting with various techniques in form and technique $60 for 4 sessions, $80...

  • Blues & BBQ Harbor Cruise on the Carolina Queen

    Jun 15, 2017
    7:00 PM - 9:00 PM @ Carolina Queen River Boat

    7:00pm-9:00pm Admission- $44.95 for adults/ $25 for children 4-11 Carolina Queen Riverboat,17 Lockwood Boulevard,Charleston, SC 29401,USA...

  • Reggae Nights Summer Concert: Mystic Vibrations

    Aug 04, 2017
    7:30 PM - 7:30 PM @ James Island County Park

  • "Rodin: The Human Experience"

    Sep 01, 2017
    All Day @ Jepson Center

    Rodin: The Human Experience presents a selection of 32 figures in bronze by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), the legendary French sculptor whose...

  • Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival

    Oct 14, 2017
    All Day

    Various Locations THIRTEENTH ANNUAL HISTORIC BLUFFTON ARTS & SEAFOOD FESTIVAL-Where Fine Art & the Bounty of the Sea Come...

  • Animal Instinct

    Jul 15, 2017
    All Day @ Jepson Center

    The diversity of animal imagery in Animal Instinct reveals the wide-ranging roles animals inhabit in an anthropocentric world. From wild...

  • "I'm Trying To Tell You" Artist Talk and Reception

    Jul 28, 2017
    All Day @ Jepson Center

    Maggie Mullin O’Hara (American, b. 1991) is a multimedia artist from Pittsburgh currently based in Columbia, SC, and Savannah. Her exhibition...

  • Jacob Lawrence, Lines of Influence at SCAD Museum of Art

    Sep 07, 2017
    All Day @ SCAD Museum of Art

    Jacob Lawrence Lines of Influence Sept. 7, 2017 - Feb. 4, 2018 The SCAD Museum of Art and the Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence...


Show More...

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Scenes of the South

Nine Line Apparel Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Nine Line Apparel hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of their new facility on Oct. 12. High-profile attendees included Governor Nathan Deal and mayor Eddie DeLoach. The ceremony began at 10 a.m. and a reception followed.

10th Annual DineSouth Celebration

The 10th annual DineSouth celebration presented by Virginia College in Savannah was one of the best events of the year. Guests gathered at Savannah Station on Oct. 12 to sample food, network, and listen to live music. String lights hung over the long, winding red carpet, which led to an area where visitors were greeted by a photo booth, drinks and live music. Cranford Hollow played all their hits on stage while patrons relaxed on bales of hay provided by Hunter Cattle Company.

Lowcountry Annie Oakleys Charity Clay Tournament

The third annual Annie Oakley's Charity Clay Tournament and After Party took place on September 29. The event benefited the Dwaine and Cynthia Willett Children's Hospital in Savannah. The day began at 11:30 a.m. with the driven bird flurry contest. Later that afternoon, the shotgun start kicked off the 100-shot tournament. The after party that evening was open to non-shooters alike, where cocktails, drinks and hors d'oeuvres from Cotton & Rye were served.

Johnathon Scott Barrett Book Signing

Locally renowned Savannah author, Johnathon Scott Barrett, signed books and stood for photo opportunities with many guests at the Gingerbread House on September 26. Food and drinks were served while guests wandered around and picked up copies of Cook and Tell: Recipes and Stories from Southern Kitchens edited by Johnathon Scott Barrett.

John Davis Florist Grand Re-Opening

John Davis Florist finally moved back into the new shop and everyone celebrated with food, drinks and live music on September 28 at the new location at 2430 Abercorn St. Guests also be celebrated the 30th anniversary of John Davis Florist! The day consisted of fun, sips, nibbles and flowers while the shop displayed Savannah's only Flower Bar.

Dancing with the Stars Benefitting CASA

The 10th Annual "Dancing with Savannah Stars" was held on September 28 at Lucas Theatre for the Arts. Many from all over the community turned up to watch the beautiful performances and support Savannah Chatham County CASA.

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride

Men, women, and pets alike gathered Sunday, September 24 for the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride. The DGR brings over 70,000 well-dressed gentlefolk in over 600 cities together on stunning motorcycles. The ride is to support men's health across 95 countries. The goal for 2017 was to raise awareness and $5 million for prostate cancer and men's mental health on behalf of charity partner the Movember Foundation.

Grand Unveiling of The DeSoto Hotel

Guests arrived at the 1540 Room grand opening at The Desoto in style. They were greeted with champagne at the door and listened to live music as they walked around greeting others and admired the art. The night was a huge success. Each guest had a wooden token that they could use to vote for their favorite food out of the several samples that were available.

Craft Brew Fest 2017

Craft Brew Fest was a day to remember...or not remember depending on how many drinks you sampled. There were several breweries from near and far showing off their crafts on Saturday, Sept. 2. Craft Brew Fest was held inside the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center. Keystone Postcard performed live while the beer was flowing. People danced and sung as the night went on. Many lined up to get a photo at the South Magazine photo booth where a red carpet and backdrop made everyone feel like a celebrity.

Private Preview of 1540 Room at The Desoto

The Desoto debuted a private preview of their restaurant, 1540 Room, which will be officially open to the public on September 21. Many gathered on the last day of August to celebrate the accomplishment. The new chef, Kyle Jacovino, prepared samples of the food that will be served in the restaurant. The DeSoto reigns as “Savannah’s hotel,” a beloved landmark that has played gracious hostess to presidents, local personalities and visitors since 1890. Treasured period details, including original crystal chandeliers and terracotta tiles, mix seamlessly with contemporary art, creating a thoughtful juxtaposition between history and modern-day style. 1540 Room will open to the public on September 21.