Charlie Horner, a Mechanicville grandfather and veteran, died from a puncture wound he received while fishing in the Rappahannock River late last month. After his death, Vibrio vulnificus suddenly was in the news, often characterized as flesh-eating bacteria. That’s true, but it isn’t the whole story.
Vibrio more commonly is known as a warm-water-loving bacterium, which can infect unsuspecting diners who eat raw shellfish. And a lot of us like our shellfish — particularly oysters — raw.
You often hear that you should eat oysters only in months that contain the letter R. That’s because summer water temperatures are ideal for the bacteria to grow. Nevertheless, whether we like it or not, there’s a low level of Vibrio in the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia rivers throughout the year. That doesn’t mean it’s dangerous — although for the elderly, people with liver disease and the immune-compromised, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise avoiding raw shellfish.
There were only 11 cases in the state confirmed last year. So far, there have been 17 this year. And Virginia has tough regulations on the books for harvesting shellfish.
During the summer months, for example, oysters must be harvested and back at the dock by 10 a.m. and put into refrigeration. While the boat is out, all oysters must be shaded.
In June, boats have only three hours to go out to harvest, and during July and August, that time is reduced to two hours. If you want to bring in oysters later in the day, you must put a Virginia Marine Resources Commission-approved GPS tracking device on your boat to make sure you get back within the time limit. Any other transportation after the oysters leave the facility also must be refrigerated.
“[The] industry has invested hundreds of millions of dollars on ice makers, refrigerated trucks, shade, coolers,” says Robert Rheault, president of the East Coast Shellfish Grower’s Association, “and almost every state has been forced to tighten post-harvest refrigeration regulations.”
Rappahannock Oyster Co. co-owner Travis Croxton says his farm takes a few more precautions on top of the ones required.
“We harvest under shade and ice down the oysters on the boat,” he says. His crew goes out at 5 a.m. to avoid the heat later in the morning. And because Rappahannock ships across the country, he says, “Every mode of transportation has temperature checks.” At each transfer, bags are tested to make sure the oysters are between 33 degrees and 45 degrees.
Although the number of cases of Vibrio has grown each year, that has more to do with a rise in demand. Last summer, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that the state’s oyster harvest rose 25 percent since the previous year and exceeded 500,000 bushels.
“Yes, Vibrio vulfinicus is disturbing,” says Rheault. “Thankfully, it is also exceedingly rare.” -- Brandon Fox
The ol’ chug and run: The Sports Backers have announced a new entry into Richmond’s festival lineup with the Trails and Ales Trail Run and Craft Beer Festival on Oct. 3. On the trail-running side of things, the festival will feature an 8-mile Tall Boy course and a 5-kilometer Pint Glass course in the Buttermilk and North Bank trails in the James River Park System, the organization says. The food-and-drink portion will feature the standard array of Richmond festival players, including music, food trucks and drinks provided by Hardywood, Isley Brewing, Legend, Strangeways and Bold Rock Hard Cider. To top it off, donations will be collected to help install a human- and canine-friendly water fountain on the Pump House Drive trail. sportsbackers.org. — Colby Rogers
Cruising into fall: In case you haven’t had your fill of seafood this season, you may want to check out Saison’s End of Summer Riverboat Takeover on Sunday, Aug. 30. Diners will enjoy a paddle boat river cruise from Rocketts Landing, featuring buffet-style eats, Anderson’s Neck oysters a la carte, an array of beer, wine and cocktails, and a DJ. There are only 100 seats available, so act quickly if this sounds like it’s up your alley. For information or reservations, call 269-3689 or visit saisonrva.eventbrite.com. — C.R.