The Food History Project November 2018 Event featured oysters and the Trevelyan family’s Grassy Bar Oyster Company in Morro Bay.
George Trevelyan has been working with shellfish for more than 20 years. He founded his company, Grassy Bar Oyster Company, in 2009 and soon will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary. The company name describes the intertidal-mudflat sites of oyster beds in the back bay just off Morro Bay. Historically the oyster beds were fringed with eelgrass, but that is now disappearing. George shared with us the long history of growing oysters in Morro Bay and his personal experiences.
Oysters are planted as tiny “seeds” of life in the wild location of the back bay. As they grow, they are placed in mesh bags to protect them from predators in a method called classic suspension-culture. Oysters feed on tiny plankton which grows naturally in the water. As filter feeders, they are an important part of the health of Morro Bay’s ecosystem. George praised the National Estuary Program working in Morro Bay which monitors and help protect the natural habitat.
The oysters are cultivated and harvested by hand; it is a labor-intensive business. While there are no native oysters, two types are currently grown: Pacific Gold and Grassy Bar. The thin shells of the Grassy Bar oysters are decorated by nature with a green-brown swirl, and the oysters have a wonderful briny flavor.
The first commercial plantings of oysters on the Central Coast dates back to 1932 when the company Bonnot and McMillan planted Pacific Oysters. This type of oyster thrived. In April 1935, the government alloted 1,677 acres in the back bay for oyster beds, and the plantings increased annually. Most of the Pacific oyster stock came from Japan. During World War II this source was cut off, and Eastern oysters were planted. These grew well but did not reproduce. A domestic source of Pacific Oysters was found in Willapa Bay located on the southwest coast of Washington state, and Pacific Oysters were back in Morro Bay. Morro Bay soon became the largest oyster producer in the state of California.
By the early 1950s small producers acquired allotments and went into business. Gradually the largest companies won most of the market. In 1958 El Morro Oyster Company opened a modern shucking and packing plot.
In the 21st Century, the oyster production is back in the hands of dedicated individuals, hand-cultivated and hand-harvested. Government regulation of the oyster industry is strict, and controls are placed on the harvest times. George was able to obtain his allotment in 2009, and since that time his company has grown. He currently sells to Giovanni’s Fish Market, Tognazzini’s Dockside, Olde Port Fish & Seafood, Santa Monica Seafood, and Water 2 Table.
We look forward to having George back for an oyster tasting.
George Trevelyan’s Book Recommendations
The California Oyster Industry by Elinore M. Barrett, 1963
Blood on the Half Shell by Al Qualman, 1985