From Shell to Shuck: Jolly Oyster’s Ecofriendly Oyster Farm Raises the Standard for Sustainably Sourced Seafood

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With a growing consumer interest in locally sourced, sustainably farmed produce and humanely treated, free-range/cage-free proteins, restaurants are increasingly paying closer attention to the provenance and treatment of every ingredient on their menus. From backyard gardens to in-house recycling programs, a number of like-minded chefs and restaurants have become inspired to work towards a great level of sustainability throughout their entire culinary programs.

For partners Mark Venus and Mark Reynolds, co-owners of one of California’s top seafood purveyors, as well as local oyster market and shuck shack, the Jolly Oyster, sustainability is of paramount concern. After having observed how the modern seafood sourcing was entirely destructive to the environment, they sought to work to create a sustainable and healthy alternative.

Yet working with locally sourced seafood was not enough and the duo decided to take full control over their oysters by beginning their own ecofriendly oyster and clam farm from which to harvest from, thereby maintaining control and ensuring the quality of their oysters from the ocean bed all the way to the diner’s plate.

Beginnings

Spending years searching the globe for the perfect location to establish their oyster and clam farm, Reynolds and Venus eventually discovered two separate locations in Baja California, establishing farms in both Laguna Manuela and San Quintin. Both farms were established following the owners’ own ethos emphasizing healthy, natural, and sustainable seafood. Neither are treated with any chemicals, fertilizers or hormones as many other larger scale operations are.

While it takes extra effort, the farms are tended to as naturally as possible, with great attention paid to the individual aspects of each unique site, considering factors such as temperature, current, and the other materials living within the seafloor. The farms are monitored monthly to ensure they adhere to the strict standards set by the U.S. FDA and have been certified for their cleanliness and minimal environmental impact.     

Jolly Oyster works with a number of species of oysters, as well as Manilla Clams, all in season at different times of the year. The team has even created their own species of oyster at their hatchery known as the Jolly Oyster, a result of a cross breeding between Kumamoto and Pacific oysters, generally only available in the month of December.

A little over a year after the first seeding, they began selling their seafood locally within Baja, and by 2003, the team was granted their import license, enabling them to begin selling oysters and other seafood stateside. After several years of selling their oysters and clams to other seafood purveyors, in 2011, the duo opened their own seafood shop off the coast of Ventura Beach, known as the Jolly Oyster Shuck Shack, offering both oysters and clams available whole shell for customers to take home to enjoy.

The “Shuck Shack” eventually evolved into a local hangout spot, offering picnic benches, oyster knives and charcoal for those customers who chose to enjoy their seafood onsite. In addition, they opened a mobile kitchen to serve up a number of prepared oyster options for purchase. Jolly Oyster’s central location has also attracted visitors traveling throughout the state as a quick stop over to enjoy some fresh local seafood steps away from the Pacific Ocean, and has become a destination in its own right.

About a year ago, Reynolds and Venus opened a second location in Southern California’s South Bay community of Torrance, offering their fresh oysters and clams to the Los Angeles community. In addition to working with their own seafood, Jolly Oyster has also expanded to work with other sustainably farmed, non-GMO seafood options sourced from farms that share their ecofriendly philosophy.

Making a Splash

Alongside working to provide ecofriendly, sustainable clams and oysters, Jolly Oyster also offers consumers playful opportunities to learn firsthand about the sustainable seafood movement as a whole through a number of unique community oriented events.

Collaborating with a number of local wineries, breweries and bars, the team has also purchased a mobile seafood shack that can be driven to offsite locations for pairing events and catering services. These wine and seafood pairings take it a notch beyond the classic “Muscadet and oyster” pairing, looking to unique craft brew matches, as well as unexpected wine pairings like recommending a pairing of what was previously a seafood taboo: chilled red wine.

Alongside these beverage pairing events, Jolly Oyster has also organized oyster picnics that invite locals to come out, shuck and grill oysters with BYO beverage options, working to foster the local community that helps sustain the business. Jolly Oyster also participates in a number of local and national food festivals where they invite chefs to work with their fresh oysters. These events have seen such interesting options such as pickled oysters, or showcase their own local creations, such as the oyster taco, which have received much acclaim amongst diners and food critics alike.

In addition to these consumer focused events, Jolly Oyster’s website also serves as a critical resource for consumers and chefs alike looking to learn more about the sustainable seafood movement. The site offers full descriptions of the oyster varieties offered including flavor profiles as well as current availability schedules, linking to Seafood Watch which enables users to view which species are currently recommend as in season and sustainable.