Quality


608 Prince Edward Island Oysters

Are oysters in season?

The question of whether oysters are "in season" or not requires a rather long answer.

We'll try and keep it as short as possible!

Simply stated there is no such thing as an oyster season to the extent that there is not a time of year when fresh oysters are unavailable as is the case with something like Florida Stone Crabs which have a CLOSED season.

This said it is possible that on almost any day of the year oysters from one or another area may be CLOSED TO HARVEST. The apparent contradiction arises because while Stone Crab season is based on a calendar date ( October 15th is the yearly opening date. ) oyster harvesting is controlled by a combination of calendar date closures and closures due to water conditions.

As it now stands oyster beds in US are carefully monitored by various governmental health agencies to assure that no harvesting takes place when water quality standards are not sufficiently good to where the oysters are unsafe safe to eat raw.

Generally closures are triggered by rain events in or upriver from a oyster harvesting area. This is because it is well understood by health officials that lower salinities associated with a influx of fresh water often lead to increased bacteria counts that can lead to a increased chance of someone eating raw oysters becoming ill.

Typically areas closed for this reason are reopened by the public health agencies once testing of the waters to assure safety is done.

The takeaway from the forgoing is that so long as oysters are harvested from a open and approved area, regardless of the time of year, they have been judged safe.

But...and this is a BIG but...being safe and being good are not the same thing. Let's face it, if a oyster does not have a good hint of salt to it it's not really worth eating...and it's even better if it has a good bit of "fat" to it.

And this is where things get really confusing because the best "season" to find oysters with a combination of "salt & fat" is in the late fall through early spring, which of course corresponds to the traditional time when oysters are in big demand.

The point being that there are two consideration as to oysters, safety and quality...and they are not the same. Safe can taste bad and what tastes bad ( bland is the usual description ) can be safe.

You, as a informed consumer need to know the difference and buy accordingly. Know too that we will not sell oysters unless they come from a approved oyster house and that you are very welcome to taste the oysters we have to be sure their flavor is to your liking. We're oyster lovers ourselves so we understand.

And that is about as concise as we can keep it...

Sustainability


Does a fish need a "sustainable" label to be "sustainable"?

The honest answer is a resounding and unequivocal NO!

Fact is that non-governmental third party "sustainable" labeling ( Think the likes of the MSC Label, Marine Stewardship Council. ) has become a marketing tool for the Big Box and national chain specialty stores. It adds cost to have the third party "certify" a fishery and because of this generally only the fisheries that the Big Box stores pay to have "certified" will get "certified".

The UGLY part of this is that the consumer is left to ASSUME that any product not labeled by one of these third party non-governmental entities is not "sustainable".

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Fact is that whether we are talking, grouper or mullet, pompano or mackerel, blue crabs or oysters........... so long as the product is sourced from a Domestic fishery they are by definition "sustainable". And they are sustainable simply because the US Government and the various state agencies do a far better job than they get credit for in regulating the domestic seafood industry.

Sure there are glitches and areas where we would question their management, Red Snapper in the Atlantic being a prime example, but the fact remains that the scientists, managers and regulatory agencies ( NOAA is charged with most of it. ) have instituted programs and regulations that work.

Without belaboring the point think about this: Who is going to pay a exorbitant fee to have the likes of the Marine Stewardship Council "certify" the Florida mullet fishery as "sustainable"?

Keep this example of the mullet in mind when you don't see any third party "sustainable" labeling on seafood. It is far from a isolated example!

What is also worth considering is that if you focus on the "sustainable" label and by doing so ignore a LOCAL fish in favor of one caught halfway around the world.......well consider the carbon footprint of that poor decision! And then contemplate where the jobs associated with the production of that fish are!

It is our well reasoned and considered opinion that third party "sustainable" labeling is at best a small help to the average consumer and at its worst a scam perpertrated to the benefit of only the Big Box entities.

Local Species


Misconceptions


Mayport Shrimp

What Is a Mayport Shrimp?

So What Does It Mean When the Sign Says "Mayport Shrimp"? The short and most truthful answer is that it means nothing.

It does not tell you whether the shrimp is fresh, where it was caught, or what species it is. And if calling something a "Mayport Shrimp" does not tell you if the shrimp is fresh, what species it is or where it was caught, why use the term?

That's a truly good question: Why use the term "Mayport Shrimp" if it means nothing?

Of course you know the answer as well as we do. They use it because they know you will ASSUME something about what they are selling, something that may not be true, and often is not even remotely true.

So what are the general shrimp facts, things that will help you be a educated consumer.

  • The vast majority ( 70-80% ) of shrimp boats working the East & Gulf Coasts of Florida today freeze their catch on board. This is not to say that we do not get a lot of shrimp that has not been frozen( For our markets we focus on it when it is available. ) but fact is that frozen on the boat is by far the norm.
  • As for those frozen on the boat domestic shrimp......they are VERY good. And they are good because they are often frozen within minutes of hitting the deck of the boat.
  • There are 3 different species of shrimp that make up the majority of the SE US catch. Links are below to each species:
  • The White shrimp is our predominant species ( Late August to early February and then again as they spawn from late April through early June. ). This is a mild, tender shrimp and makes up the bulk ( 80-90% ) of the local shrimp catch.
  • The Brown shrimp makes up most of the other 20% of our local production ( June through late August ). The brown shrimp is more flavorful and firmer in texture than the white shrimp.
  • Pink shrimp make up a negligible portion of our local catch but constitute the majority of landings in the southern part of the state, especially in SW Florida. The pink shrimp is a hit or miss proposition as far as eating quality because of it's propensity to have a very strong iodine like flavor that most people in this area find objectionable. While we sell pinks at times ( They are not necessarily pink in color, often being brown, especially when caught along the Upper Gulf. ) but are very careful to buy them only from areas where they do not get the off-flavor.
  • Imported shrimp is not necessarily bad. As with our local shrimp it comes down to species and how well the shrimp was handled before freezing.

What is "Wild Salmon"?

It's one of the most asked questions in the fish market: "Do you have wild salmon?"

The problem with the question is that it does not ask for enough information and actually reflect simply a well intentioned attempt by the customer to be careful about what they eat. We appreciate that, those being the kind of customers we built our business serving, the careful kind.

The hard part is that what we don't know is whether the customer has any real idea what they are asking for. That may sound odd but fact is, to say "Wild Salmon" is analogous to saying "Wild Eagle", in that it really does not tell us much.

Most times when we reply to the customer "What species?", a blank stare ensues or maybe they'll reply that they saw "Wild Chum Salmon" advertised in the big box store's add and wanted to know if we had it.

Simply stated, to ask for "Wild Salmon" means very little as it's only a first step. As a informed consumer you need to know more, a lot more. You need to know species, the method of capture and certainly whether it has been frozen.

Asking for "Wild Salmon" provides you with none of that vital information.

It also does not answer the ongoing question of "wild" over "farmed", a question we struggle with even though in general we find the better grades of Farmed Atlantic Salmon to be more to our liking for our own use. The only exception to this being "Wild King Salmon", and then only the larger fattier fish and the "Ivory Kings".

Some evenhanded answers to the "wild"/"farmed" debate are at the Washington State Department of Health wed site, which is here: http://www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/Food/Fish/FarmedSalmon.aspx

There are a whole lot of other web locations on which to research the controversy but the Washington State site is a good start as they don't have a horse in the race other than public health.

The "wild"/"farmed" debate aside there is still the questions posed before as to species, method of capture, whether it's been frozen. For our purposes we can dispense with the question of frozen because if it is not in season and fresh we do not sell it.

The question of species is answered in a fairly simple way here: http://www.salmonnation.com/fish/meet_species.html even though it does not answer the question of which species are worth eating and which are not. From our perspective as fishmongers that need our customers to be satisfied with what they get the Kings are the best, but most expensive.

The Chums & Pinks are basically the mullet of the salmon world.....in our opinion. Grocery stores will hawk these late in the season as low prices but their flavor, oil content and texture leaves us generally unwilling to sell them.

Coho & Sockeye run neck and neck as second place fish, though FAR behind the Kings in quality. They will be much less expensive and the Coho, if they are BIG troll caught fish can be rather good, but in general both are much less preferred than the King. A situation reflected by the relative prices.....

Last thing to know is method of capture. Troll caught ( this means hook & line ) Kings and Coho are preferred over net fish of either species. We generally sell only the Troll Caught of both.

As for the Sockeye, they will invariably be netted fish.

In summation be a informed consumer, know your species, know why, or even IF you really want/need "Wild Salmon" and then only buy it fresh in season. We'll hold up our end of the bargan by buying the best we can find filleting it properly and selling it at reasonable prices.

Steamedcrab Blue

What is a "Maryland Blue Crab" and how is it different from a "Florida Blue Crab"?

Now this will come as a BIG SHOCK to folks from Maryland but fact is there is no such thing as a "Maryland Blue Crab", except to the extent that a particular crab may have been caught in Maryland.

Blue Crabs as a species (Callinectes sapidus ) range "from Nova Scotia, down the east coast of North America (including the Chesapeake Bay), off Bermuda, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea (including the Antilles Islands), and down the east coast of South America to northern Argentina. Although the blue crab is rarely found north of Cape Cod, it has been seen in Maine and Nova Scotia following consecutive warm years.

The blue crab has been introduced, probably via ship ballasts into Europe, north Africa, and southwest Asia."

Point being that it is the same species of crab whether it came from Brazil, Mexico, Florida or Maryland.

The benefit to a educated consumer of knowing this is that they can simply buy "Blue Crabs" and know that the flavor will be just like back home, wherever "home" is.

Another question we consistently hear in the market involves "male" crabs. While it is true that male blue carbs can grow larger than the females it is untrue that the meat contained within tastes different.

This is not to say that there are not differences ( males have larger claws relative to their body, while females will often contain roe which is prized by some consumers ) but rather to make the point that as a educated consumer paying more for male crabs is often times a waste of money.

One note on this question of "meat".........the afore mentioned roe in the female if broken up and distributed into the meat will impart a different flavor to the meat. In fact customers from SE Asia will often ask specifically for female crabs because of this.

Here in Florida our "crab season" usually kicks off in late March or early April and will run through November, often into December if it stays warm. And even in the off season it's not unusual that there will be a few crabs available.

Our crabber will begin to sort his crabs as soon as there are enough males in the catch to justify it. This is not to say that just because we have male crabs sorted out that they will be larger than the females but rather that we do this in response to customer demand. Normally it will be late May or even well into June before there are enough male crabs that will classify as #1s to justify spending the extra money for them. ( Our Opinion.....for what it is worth. )

Below is a link to a good blue crab website:
http://www.bluecrab.info/lifecycle.html

What does "fresh" really mean as it relates to seafood?

Seafood is in general twice as perishable as beef. Store that fact away.

And then know that beef is often "aged" up to a month before being sold as fresh. And this "fresh" beef will be even better tasting and more tender due to the aging.

Here is a great article from Forbes regarding "dry aged beef." It's well worth a read.

Of course with seafood the thought of "aging" is absurd.

Rather the idea is to focus on the time as mentioned previously and think critically.

Yes seafood is generally twice as perishable as beef but if beef can be "aged" for 28 days to reach its best texture and flavor while still being safe to eat......well you should be able to do the math.

Fact is that most seafood if properly handled will keep, depending on the species, for between 1 & 2 weeks from the time it is harvested and still be VERY good. Beyond that time much of it will still be safe to eat.

Of course being safe and being of a quality to where we would be proud to sell it are not the same as we do hold a rather high standard as to what we ourselves consider "fresh".