Thu09182014

Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

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Va. Oyster Trail should become boon for region

The new Virginia Oyster Trail will help watermen in King George and Westmoreland, area residents said.
Several years ago, a group of business and civic leaders got together in Lancaster to talk about how to create economic activity in the Northern Neck by improving Virginia’s brand as an oyster producing state. The result was the creation of the Virginia Oyster Trail, which was announced last week by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
“Virginia produces the best oysters in the world and as the oyster industry continues to grow, we want to let it be known that Virginia is also the Oyster Capital of the East Coast,” said McAuliffe, who also declared November as Virginia Oyster Month.

Doug Jenkins, a 79-year-old waterman who sells oysters at the King George Farmers’ Market believes the new oyster trail is a good idea.

“It is something that has been in the making for sometime,” he said.  “It will give me a chance to sell more oysters.”  

Jenkins, who along with his son harvests oysters from several private oyster beds along the Potomac River, believes the new oyster trail will give him an improved marketing ability after the farmers’ market closes each fall. Jenkins has been working as a waterman since he was 12.

The Virginia Oyster Trail, a companion to Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail, will encourage tourists and residents not only to buy Virginia’s salty and sweet oysters but to patron the restaurants and raw bars that serve them, as well as to learn about the booming aquaculture economy in Virginia.

“Virginia is in the oyster business in a major way,” said Rita McClenny, president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation. “With seven different oyster regions, we are unlike any other state in the nation. The development of the Virginia Oyster Trail will allow travelers to experience the state with taste by pairing the Virginia oyster with other quality products made in Virginia, including wine, craft beer, cider and spirits.”
Dean Nininger, whose family has been harvesting oysters for 47 years, agrees.

“It will get more people to try Chesapeake Bay oysters and local oysters,” said Nininger, who along with his wife, Brittney, operates Shady Lane Seafood on Route 205 in Westmoreland County.  

“We have our own beds,” he said.  “We plant ’em and we pick ’em. There is definitely a demand for local oysters. People don’t want oysters from Louisiana; they want them from here.”

Oystering in Virginia dates to the founding of Jamestown in 1607. At one time, oysters were so plentiful in Virginia rivers and the Chesapeake Bay that watermen were harvesting 10 million bushels a year.

State Delegate Margaret Ransone, who represents King George and Westmoreland counties in the Virginia General Assembly, said the new oyster trail will improve the economy not only in the Northern Neck, but throughout coastal Virginia, including the Middle Peninsula and the Eastern Shore.

“It’s going to be especially good for the young people getting into the industry. It’s hard getting started,” Ransone said.  “It’s good for tourism and it’s good for the vineyards.  It’s a really cool idea.”

The initial phase of oyster trail is expected to take up to a year to develop, state officials said.

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