(Bloomberg) -- South Carolina’s oyster suppliers may face weeks of delays in harvesting due to disruptions caused by Hurricane Ian.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced today it’s closing all shellfish harvesting beds across the state due to projected rainfall that could affect water quality. That means suppliers to local restaurants and distributors won’t be able to collect oysters until they get the all-clear from the state. The start of the 2022-2023 wild shellfish harvest season, which had been scheduled for Oct. 1, has been delayed. Harvests will resume once officials confirm the water is free from contamination.
Trey McMillan, founder of Lowcountry Oyster Co., one of the biggest suppliers in South Carolina, said a representative for the DHEC called him Thursday to say it was delaying the live harvest season until it could take water samples to make sure pH levels are safe. McMillan’s company stocks over 50 restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina, and supplies oysters weekly to a wholesaler located in Birmingham, Alabama, which sells to restaurants across the south. A banner on Lowcountry Oyster’s website now reads, “All orders are currently paused due to Hurricane Ian — We’ll be back soon!”
“The main issue is how it affects water quality. Runoff that has bacteria pollution affects the water quality, which in turn affects the oysters,” McMillan said. “The oysters will recover from this, but it takes a few tide cycles for the water quality to get back to normal.”
Follow the latest updates from the storm here.
Farmed oysters in the state grew to over 1.2 million in 2019 from 139,178 in 2014, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. In 2020, production dropped slightly due to restaurants closing during the pandemic and rebounded to about 1 million in 2021.
DHEC told McMillan it would take water samples on Tuesday, and he guesses it’ll be about a week before the results come back.
As he spoke, a flash-flood alert warning goes off on his cell phone.
Michael Kalista, the co-founder of Steamboat Creek Oyster Farm, agrees the hurricane will cause him a few delays. Founded in 2020, his company supplies about 10 restaurants in Charleston and sells about 5,000 oysters a week. He recently sent a message to his customers telling them to expect his business to be down for at least five days. Hurricanes can cause up to a 21-day delay for harvesters depending on whether water contamination is found, he said.
“My main concern is we don’t want to put out a product that could potentially get people sick,” Kalista said. “It’s unfortunate that we’re at the mercy of nature sometimes but we just have to roll with the punches.”
Ian Photos: Flooded Homes, Washed-Out Roads, Broken Power Poles
Kalista is a mariculture oyster producer who can harvest all year round. Strictly wild harvesters might be more impacted by hurricane delays because they are limited by harvest season and can only make money a few months out of the year. McMillan’s business does both mariculture and wild harvest.
“We’re not able to pay our harvesters because they get paid by the bushel,” McMillan said. “The more bushels they pick, the more they make. They have a handful of months out of the year to make a living.”
McMillan and Kalista plan to ride out the storm at home and assess the damage when it’s safe.
“You get kind of a uptick in your anxiety levels when these storms are coming,” Kalista said. “They can be catastrophic for not only your personal property, like your home, but also for your business property.”
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.