Oysters. From Apalachicola to Zen, these briny bivalves are a tabletop testament to how food goes beyond just sustenance. Food has the power to reconnect us to our historical roots and to propel us forward into our future with new culinary and socially conscious trends. For this reason, Hilton Head native Andrew Carmines recently launched Shell Ring Oyster Company—a dream he has been harvesting for some time.
“Rob Rowe (who is now the Director of Operations for Shell Ring) and I were shedding soft shell crabs. It was 3 a.m. and I joked, ‘We’re going to get bored when shedding is over.’ That’s when we started talking about harvesting oysters,” began Carmines.
Shortly thereafter, Carmines remembered a quote he read in grade school science class at Hilton Head Preparatory School. “It said something like, ‘In order to right all the negative ecological impacts humans have caused, we need to look toward nature to learn how to better protect our environment.’”
As Carmines is relaying this story, we are sitting in his family-owned restaurant, Hudson’s. Hudson’s is one of Hilton Head’s oldest businesses and before it was serving its signature Lowcountry dishes, it was the site of the Island’s first real industry—oyster shucking. Thousands of discarded shells and thousands of hours go into the restaurant’s foundation—making it a monument to people like the Gullah workers who originally inhabited the Island and serving as a successful example of the sustainable seafood movement.
Already Shell Ring Oyster Company has accomplished so much. According to Carmines:
• We are continuously improving our local water quality. The 70,00 plus oysters we harvested our first year filter 15-20 gallons of water a day, totaling approximately 500 million gallons per year.
• By creating jobs and maintaining agreements with other local businesses and restaurants, the local economy is stimulated.
• By working closely with DNR, we hope to establish an area where we can re-utilize and redistribute the discarded oyster shells around the Hudson’s restaurant property to create a natural and safe habitat for more oysters. This is especially important to the Lowcountry because the area has very little hard substrate for oysters to attach to and therefore the vast majority of oyster larvae die.
• The Lowcountry now has a sustainable alternative to wild oysters. This ensures people will continue to enjoy our local oysters—which have an unrivaled and much celebrated flavor profile due to the consistency of our water’s salinity content.
Visit shellringoystercompany.com for more information, including Carmines’ harvesting process, oyster lore and lingo and upcoming events.