It is cold. Well...that's an understatement. It's so cold that I am pretty sure that you-know-where has frozen over, and that is not good for our East Coast shellfish. We haven't seen conditions like these in the Chesapeake Bay area since 1977. Boats cannot get out on any of the rivers, and oystering and clamming have become impossible. The Bay is frozen solid between the eastern and western shores and if you look north conditions get much worse.
So what happens to our oysters, clams, and mussels when everything is frozen solid? Well, to put it simply, production stops. We will not be seeing much product coming from the Chesapeake Bay area to Prince Edward Island, Canada in the next week. Shellfish of all varieties are either buried under feet of ice or, even if they are accessible, die in the freezing temperatures above once pulled out of the water. These temperatures and conditions are making it impossible to source shellfish on the East Coast.
Local oysters will be nearly impossible to get in the next few days, except for some wild product, so don't expect your local oyster bars to have a broad variety. If you don't see any little neck, top neck, or cherrystone clams at your local raw bar this weekend don't make too much of a fuss. Clamming operations are at a standstill and will be until some thawing action happens. More bad news: Mussels will likely not be on the menu next week. P.E.I. is frozen over and many harvest locations have become inaccessible due to extreme weather.
When the conditions are right, large bodies of water can freeze pretty quickly. Such cold can freeze the Bay for miles in just a few minutes. Unfortunately it will take a couple of days to thaw. When Mother Nature wants to, she can put a big damper on your raw bar selection. We all, shellfish lovers included, just have to suck it up and wait. Remember that the oyster farmers are doing their best to harvest what they can, and accomplishing this in weather that would have most of us running for our homes and space heaters. If you think it's brutal walking the 25 feet from your car to the house, imagine being on the water for hours at a time, where the wind is multiplied by a hundred and the cold just doesn't quit. So if you find yourself in front of a few bi-valves in the next week, take a moment to appreciate what it took to get them there and be thankful you didn't have to do it.