Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Oyster Bar




Earlier I wrote how Norm Bloom receives the same price for oysters as he did 20 years ago. While operating costs have increased dramatically in the past 20 years, he is paid only 31 cents per oyster.  I thought I would end this series with a look at what the general public pays for oysters.
In an unscientific survey, I made some calls to regional restaurants to see what their oyster prices were. I contacted restaurants in Larchmont, Rowayton, New Haven, Noank, Oyster Bay, Greenport, and Port Washington. I also checked the menu of the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station.
A half dozen oysters on the half-shell ranged from $1.70 to about $2.15 per oyster. That is a 500 to 700% price increase since they left the dock. Now I realize that this is not unique to shellfish. A $12 dollar pasta dish may consist of  less than a dollars worth of ingredients. You are paying for the service, the table, etc, when you eat at a restaurant.
I followed this up by checking the prices at some seafood markets in the same areas. A dozen oysters ranged from $.50 to .89 each, with most of them in the $.60-.70 cents range. Transported down the street, they have doubled in price.
So what is my point to all this? It certainly is not to cry poverty for Norm Bloom. I am sure he is more than comfortable financially and  he certainly doesn't need our sympathy. It is the oyster industry as a whole, that I worry about. Eventually it becomes more lucrative to sell the property and boats, and pursue other income. Just as many farms are more valuable for their real estate than their farming income, an oyster operation faces a similar fate.

Grand Central Oyster Bar: Raw Bar Prices 

*Update: A big flaw with this survey is that it does not consider the source of the oysters. This seafood distributer's website boasts about his cheap oysters from Mexico, right alongside an article about the virtues of buying locally. If a restaurant or market is buying from a distributer such as this, they may very well be purchasing Mexican oysters, despite their proximity to the local oyster docks. 

3 comments:

Erin @ I Heart New England said...

That's crazy, and something I was unaware of. People, like myself, who are unfamiliar with the fishing industry generally assume the fish we're consuming are worth the price we paid. Evidently, we were mistaken!

jeannette stgermain said...

Your research validated your worry! Can anything be done?

matthew houskeeper said...

Erin,
There is more money made "trading" shellfish than in harvesting them. That is true unfortunately for a lot of produce today. An orchard, cattle farm, etc face the same thing.

Jeannette,
I don't know. Buying locally would certainly help. But as the update (above) shows, there are distributors who boast about their "buy local" program, while they continue to promote oysters from Mexico.