Here's the bad news: the oyster shortage is getting worse. And the good news? There are things you can do to secure your supply for the party season.
Being organised is key. The oyster shortage, after all, will be hit by heavy demand over the holidays and the industry is still recovering from last year’s outbreak of the Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS).
The reality is, these issues will make oysters more expensive - and prices have risen around 20 per cent in the past few months, says Tom Ahern, sales manager at Ocean Made Seafood, which is one of Melbourne’s leading fishmongers. “With such demand over the forthcoming period, it may very easily increase by another dollar or so, a dozen, from where we are now.”
Oysters Australia president Bruce Zippel says some restaurants have completely removed oysters from their menus because of the price hike. If you're still ordering the much-loved mollusc, don’t be surprised if you have to pay at least five dollars a pop.
Why is it happening?
The oyster shortage is due to an outbreak of POMS, which is triggered by warm water temperatures. While the syndrome is not harmful to humans, it is deadly to Pacific oysters, the most popular type in Australia. This decimated oyster supplies in Tasmania last year and consequently, South Australia was not able to get its spats (baby oysters) from Tasmania - which means that the production of Pacific oysters has been down in South Australia as well.
To alleviate the shortage, farmers of the Sydney Rock - a type of oyster not affected by POMS - have been amping up their production, but it’s not enough to cover the gap.
You want oysters over Christmas? Here’s what to do.
We know that freshness is paramount with oysters, so don’t be tempted to buy them too early. But Oysters Australia’s Bruce Zippel recommends that you think ahead - ask your fishmonger if you can place an order. “Especially if you like your South Australian oysters, your Coffin Bay and your Smoky Bay oysters. Check if you can secure your supply beforehand,” he says.
If you’ve always been buying Pacific oysters, Ocean Made’s Tom Ahern suggests trying the Sydney Rock: “The Rock oysters have a lower salinity and a more complex flavour profile. They have an incredible zing and back palate that will pleasantly surprise you.”
Be ready to pay a bit more than usual. Fishmongers say prices will likely range from the mid-to-high twenties for a good-quality dozen oysters.
It will get better
There’s no quick fix for the oyster shortage, but things should eventually start picking up by mid-2019.
POMS is still a threat, but the Australian industry is responding by breeding oysters for resistance and building new hatcheries.
Bruce Zippel asks Australians to be patient, as the situation will get back to normal - in the long run.
“We’re in a good position in Australia to get on top of this relatively quickly compared to other parts of the world. We’re already seeing good resistance in some of the spots in Tasmania. We believe, going forward, that we have a good future; we just have a very difficult period right now.“
The po’ boys we serve in the restaurant are a variation on the Louisiana staple, the name being a contraction of its original name, ‘poor boy’. In that neck of the woods, you might also find them filled with roast beef, and typically they’re served on a baguette — a French influence from New Orleans. We serve ours on house-made English muffins, with coleslaw. Make a start on this recipe the day before serving, as the oysters need a good long buttermilk soaking.
I know pork crackling isn’t really Turkish, but this combo was inspired by my visit to Turkey and it is such a cracking entree that it will be on the Maha menu for a long time to come. You could make your own pork crackling or buy it ready cooked from an Asian grocer or liquor store. Serve as part of a meze platter with plenty of crusty bread.