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Lynnhaven oysters: a sweet, briny protein from the past

A person wearing bib overalls and gloves sorts through oysters in a cage. The person is kneeling beside a river
Keyris Manzanares
VPM News Focal Point
Chris Ludford has been harvesting oysters in the Lynnhaven River since 2010. Lynnhaven oysters, grown in Virginia Beach, are special because of their unique sweet and salty taste.

Legend has it they were among Cpt. John Smith’s first Virginia meals.

A staple of Virginia Beach and the Lynnhaven River, Lynnhaven oysters are known for their size and saltiness. Legend has it they were among Cpt. John Smith’s first meals when he arrived in Virginia in 1607.

Chris Ludford, owner of Pleasure House Oyster Farms, has been harvesting oysters in the Lynnhaven River since 2010.

“The Lynnhaven oyster is special and unique because of the balance,” Ludford said. “It's salty, but not too salty. It's got seaweed notes. It’s got a great flavor. It's not earthy or metallic. It's just a sweet, briny oyster. It's just perfect.”

Ludford said being an oyster farmer on the Lynnhaven River means harvesting oysters in a way that meets the reputation of the waterway and is profitable, while also bolstering the environment.

“The benefits of oyster farming are that we are letting the wild oysters come back. We're using farmed oysters to sell and supply the needs of the consumer. But at the same time, that lets the wild oysters rebound and come back because their numbers are lower,” Ludford said. “Another benefit of oyster farming is that ... the oysters filter the water. They eat algae, bacteria and they make it into a protein that is great to eat.”

Ludford said that eating a Lynnhaven oyster is like revisiting the past.

“Oysters are often looked at as being the seafood mascot of Virginia because [they’ve] been here forever. It's been the food of royalty. It was the food throughout the 17- and 1800s,” Ludford said. “It also was a food of ancient civilizations. It's a food that's been around a long time. And it's had its ups and downs, and now we're finding out new things about it and we're bringing it back.”

According to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, oyster fishing is the largest economic contributor to the state’s seafood industry.

Pleasure House Oyster Farms offers several tours for people visiting Virginia Beach, including a watermen tour that gives visitors access to a hands-on oyster experience on the Lynnhaven River.

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