Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mary Colman

Like many farming and fishing industries, there are both good and bad years for oystering. Sometimes the good or bad years can last a decade. One of the first questions I asked Norman Bloom was what kind of year has it been. Perhaps I didn't phrase my question correctly, or maybe he fully understood , but decided to take a different angle with his answer. He said the biggest problem is the costs for fuel, maintenance, insurance, etc, are all going up, but he is still being paid the same price for oysters as he was twenty years ago. I asked him what he gets paid for a bushel, and he told me that they are no longer priced per bushel.Oysters are now sold by the count of one hundred. A bushel of one hundred sells for 31 dollars, or 31 cents per oyster."And that includes delivery in most cases", he told me.

He seemed disgusted by the fact that the price of oysters in restaurants and seafood markets has increased significantly, while the price he is paid remains stagnant.* I am not sure if this was a plan in the works, or if he was simply brainstorming, but Norman talked about wanting to set up a system where he would sell directly to restaurants and stores in the region. The oysters could be sold at a lower price, so long as the savings was passed on to the consumers. "The goal is to get more people eating oysters", he said.
We approached the Mary Colman, which is another 1920's era oyster boat in the fleet. She is a smaller version of the Ringgold Brothers but appeared to be in much better condition. The pre-fab pilothouse was a clear indication she had undergone extensive renovation. The crew seemed especially happy to see us. Perhaps the isolation of being on a boat in Long Isand Sound during February, made any interaction a special occasion. Then again, maybe they were just glad it was Friday afternoon, and the paychecks had arrived.

(More To Follow)
Soundbounder: The Fruits Of Winter (part one)
Soundbounder: I Love It Out Here This Time Of Year (part two)
Soundbounder: Lifting The Dredge (part four)
Norm Bloom & Son

* I call this the Poinsettia Process. North of San Diego is the town of Carlsbad CA, which is famous for it's poinsettias. Every November the plants are shipped to wholesalers, who then ship them to the distribution centers of chain stores. Eventually they make it back to the grocery stores and Home Depots in San Diego, and sell for the same price as they do in Hartford and Brooklyn. It happens with seafood too.


will said...

matt-- i love the focus of this series. AND the fotos/writing are good! keep'em coming. this is important stuff, and we'd all be happier if we ate more local seafood.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Your commerce/economy lesson is well written.
How many employees per boat?

Unknown said...

I have had very good interactions with Norm Bloom (mostly through At Glowka, the shellfish commissioner in Stamford) and it is very sad how the reality is. They work hard getting clams and oysters and it does seem that the tide is always against them.

Anonymous said...

Some interesting posts about oystering.

bowsprite said...

mm! i'd LOVE to draw an oyster boat. damn, 31¢ an oyster! but they're $3.16 each at balthazar!

Bethany said...

i don't get that at all, no wonder he's disgusted.

Jeannette StG said...

Don't know what to think of the poinsettea process. It seems to me that the customer is paying!!

Unknown said...

Thanks everyone!!!

There were 4-6 people on each boat.

He mentioned another group too. HarborWatch, I think it was called.

I called around and checked a few places online. Grand Central Oyster Bar is about $2 each.

It happens with a lot of things, especially produce, meat, seafood, etc. Lots of middlemen who control the market and make the most profit.

Andree said...

Such an interesting series, Matt. I just finished listening to the history of the oyster in NYC book (no, I can't remember who wrote it, but he wrote Salt and Cod). Your photographs are amazing.

Unknown said...

Thanks Andree!
Sorry for the delay in responding. I think the book you are refering to is THE BIG OYSTER by Mark Kurlansky.