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Eastern Oyster

close up of an oyster

Common Name(s): Eastern Oyster, Common Oyster, Atlantic Oyster, American Oyster, Virginia Oyster
Scientific Name: Crassostrea virginica

Fun Facts:

  • Oysters are reef building organisms: juvenile oysters (also called spat) attach (with a glue-like substance) themselves to adult oysters already attached to rocks, shell or other oysters. After time, this accumulation of oysters and shell forms a reef.
  • The Eastern oyster can grow up to 10 inches in length and can live to approximately 20 years of age
  • Their predators include crabs, starfish, and oyster drills (a predatory snail that can drill a hole through the hard shell of oysters and other clams or snails).
  • The Eastern oyster makes pearls. These pearls, however, are not as brilliant or valuable as those produced by other oyster species. Pearls are formed when a sand grain or other irritating particle gets stuck inside the oyster's shell. To get rid of this irritant the oyster covers the sand grain with a smooth substance called nacre, which is similar to the material covering the inside of the shell. After receiving several layers of nacre the sand grain eventually becomes a pearl.

Where Are They Found?

Eastern oysters are found along the east coast of the United States in muddy bays and harbors from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Oysters are usually found in the intertidal and subtidal zones. The intertidal zone is the coastal area that is either submerged or unsubmerged with water depending on the height of the tide. The subtidal zone is the coastal area that is submerged under water most of the time, but may be exposed if the tide is extremely low.

What Do They Look Like?

Oysters have pale white to gray shells that are rough and bumpy.

Harvesting Eastern Oysters

a bunch of oysters

This shellfish is a very popular item found on restaurant menus worldwide and is a economically important species in the shellfishing industry. Oysters are often served raw on the half shell.

Catch Limits and Seasons: Get information on seasons and catch limits for both recreational and commercial shellfish harvesting. Commercial shellfish harvesters must have a shellfish diggers permit and meet other department requirements A harvest area map is available online for commercial shellfish harvesters to record on harvest tags.

Shellfish Closures: Shellfish like clams, oysters, mussels and scallops may only be taken from areas that are designated as certified by DEC. There are a few items to check before going out to harvest shellfish:

  • Descriptions of all uncertified harvest areas are important to check before you harvet shellfish.
  • Special shellfish closures are usually associated with summer holidays and increased recreational boating and mooring
  • Emergency closures are due to temporary water quality conditions that render shellfish unsafe for human consumption. The Emergency Closure Hotline: (631) 444-0480 is also available to find out if an area near you is temporarily closed to shellfishing.

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    205 North Belle Mead Raod, Suite 1
    East Setauket, New York 11733
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