Oysters are a main attraction on Virginia’s Oyster Trail and Maryland’s Crab & Oyster Trail
by Laura Emery, Staff Writer
October is National Seafood Month, recognizing one of America’s oldest industries.
You can enjoy them naked, or raw with either a squeeze of lemon or a mignonette sauce. They can be grilled, fried, poached or smoked. There are many ways to savor the flavor of oysters.
These plump, briny bivalves are a main attraction along Virginia’s Oyster Trail and Maryland’s Crab & Oyster Trail. These trails include restaurants, seafood markets, tours, events and more. Whether you visit Virginia’s trail or Maryland’s trail, you are guaranteed to have plenty of places to stop to sip, slurp and stay awhile.
The Virginia Oyster Trail beckons visitors, from far and wide, to the commonwealth to follow their appetite as they explore the many flavors of Virginia’s oysters. And you can’t feature oysters without featuring the hardworking watermen and aquaculture coastal way of life. The Trail also highlights the important influence that the oyster industry has on the local economy.
With around 150 stops, it winds its way through eight different regions in the state. These regions include Seaside, Upper Bay Eastern Shore, Lower Bay Eastern Shore, Upper Bay Western Shore, Middle Bay Western Shore, Lower Bay Western Shore, Tidewater and Tangier/Middle Chesapeake Bay.
To begin your journey along Virginia’s Oyster Trail, visit virginiaoystertrail.com.
For Maryland’s Crab & Oyster Trail, the focus is savoring the treasures of the Chesapeake Bay, promoting Maryland’s outstanding seafood to domestic and international travelers, as well as to highlight the state’s waterman culture.
The Trail features more than 100 seafood eateries, as well as attractions that showcase the state’s heritage and history in connection with the seafood of the Chesapeake Bay and watershed. You can build a full experience into your itinerary by visiting fishing villages, exploring a maritime museum, climbing aboard a waterman’s boat for a tour, and then enjoying crabs and oysters at any one of the restaurants or eateries along the Trail.
The Trail is divided into five regional excursions: Central Maryland, Eastern Shore, Capital Region, Southern Maryland and Western Maryland.
To find out more about Maryland’s Crab & Oyster Trail, visit visitmaryland.org/article/maryland-crab-oyster-trail.
Meet Bruce Vogt
“PEACE, LOVE AND OYSTERS!” — THAT’S HOW BRUCE VOGT CHEERFULLY ENDS VOICEMAIL MESSAGES. He’s president of the Virginia Oyster Trail and owner of Big Island Aquaculture in Gloucester County, Va. Vogt used to live in Manassas and was a member of Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative when it was formerly called Prince William Electric Cooperative. “We loved being co-op members and miss it,” he says. “We were spoiled by the co-op, and we loved the money back [capital credits] at the end of the year.”
Vogt loves talking about his beloved oysters and Virginia’s oyster trail. “The main purpose of the Virginia Oyster Trail is to bring more tourism and to increase awareness of our rural coastal communities and, in turn, drive more jobs to those communities,” he explains.
He and his wife, Cathy, opened their oyster business in 2013. “We named it Big Island Aquaculture because we’re deep in the heart of Gloucester County’s Guinea, which is where the local watermen are called Guineamen. There’s an island here called Big Island. When we moved to the area, there were about 40 Guineamen still living on the island — so to honor them, we named our company Big Island Aquaculture,” he says.
Big Island Aquaculture’s oysters are sustainably grown. Unused shells are returned to the water to rebuild the oyster reefs. “The convergence of various bodies of water produces the ideal balance of sweet and salty — a beautiful, clean oyster that can’t be replicated,” he says.
Spend a little time with Vogt and you’ll soon learn the history of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, and he might even share their family’s “Big Island Rocks” oyster sauce recipe. “I like to eat my oysters roasted with an herb and garlic butter sauce that has Parmesan or pecorino cheese,” he says. “It’s the best!”
Be sure to chew your oysters, he says. It’s a common misconception that oysters should be swallowed whole. “You’ll miss experiencing the full flavor if you do that,” he says. “That’s like swallowing an M&M whole.”
To fully savor the experience of eating an oyster, Vogt recommends you take in the aroma of the oysters first. “It should smell fresh and beautiful, like the ocean,” he says. (Just like wine has its terroir, oysters have their own “merroir.” In French, the word means “sea” and the term “merroir” has been adopted to describe a sort of terroir for oysters.) Next, sip, slurp and then chew once or twice before you swallow — and, if you choose, top it off with a sip of a crisp, white wine to enhance the flavor of the oysters.
For more information on Big Island Aquaculture, visit bigislandaquaculture.com.
A Stop on Maryland’s Trail
Mogan’s Oyster House, 100 East Main St. in Salisbury, Md., is located in a building that was once the city’s first hotel. As a destination location and part of the Maryland Crab & Oyster Trail, Mogan’s is well-known for its oysters, as well as other upscale fare. It was named one of the city’s best restaurants in the June 2023 issue of Metropolitan magazine, a local publication that highlights a variety of quality establishments throughout Maryland.
Mogan’s offers a variety of oysters from both Maryland and Virginia, such as “Honest” oysters from Maryland’s shore. These nice-sized oysters have a balanced salinity and a deep cup, meaning that they are substantial. In contrast, Virginia’s “Salt Shaker” oysters are smaller and have a high salinity that culminates in a sweet finish.
For those who prefer a kick, Mogan’s also serves fried oyster sliders, which have a tangy flavor all their own. A must-try for the curious.
For more information about Mogan’s Oyster House, visit mogansoysterhouse.com.
Did You Know?
There were a series of disputes between oyster pirates and authorities and legal watermen from Maryland and Virginia in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River from 1865 until about 1959. These clashes are now known as the Oyster Wars.
After the Civil War, the oyster harvesting industry exploded. In the 1880s, the Chesapeake Bay was the source of almost half of the world’s supply of oysters. New England fishermen encroached on the Bay after their local oyster beds had been exhausted, which prompted violent clashes with local fishermen from Maryland and Virginia.
Maryland responded by founding the Maryland Oyster Police Force in 1868, which was the predecessor of the modern Maryland Natural Resources Police. Virginia attempted to fight illegal oystering by banning oyster dredging in 1879. Neither state’s efforts were successful, as Potomac River Fisheries Commissioner H. C. Byrd is credited with bringing an end to the violent conflicts. He ordered the fisheries police disarmed after an officer killed a Virginia waterman who was illegally dredging.
10 Fun Facts About Oysters
Courtesy of Chesapeake Bay Foundation
- Oysters have been around for approximately 15 million years.
- An oyster becomes an adult when it turns one year old and can live as long as 20 years.
- Oysters can change their sex. In fact, they will often do it more than once.
- Juvenile oysters are called spat.
- Oysters breathe like fish — yes, they have gills.
- Oysters are vegetarians. They eat algae by filtering it out of the water.
- A single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. That’s about as much water as you use in a 10-minute shower.
- As oyster generations settle on one another and grow, they form reefs that provide shelter for other animals, like fish and crab.
- A raw oyster may still be alive as you eat it. No, really — if you’re at a raw oyster bar and someone shucks you a fresh oyster, it’s likely still alive. Give it a poke with a fork next time to see if it moves.
- Oyster shells are recyclable. You can return your shells at several drop off locations around the Bay, and they’ll be reused to help grow juvenile oysters.