"Tastiness from the mouth
of the Rappahannock!"
Back in the '60's, Wayne Bailey, co-founder and owner of Bay Oyster Company, watched the watermen hand-tong oysters from the front porch of his family home on the Rappahannock River. Today Bay Oyster Company raises and harvests oysters in the same spot as these Oystermen of years past.
"My sister, brother and I would pole our skiff through the thick underwater eel grass and catch crabs that were swimming through the tops of the grasses.," Wayne remembers, "the knee high eel grass in shallows all along the mouth of the Rappahannock was so thick we had to raise our motor and pole our way through”.
But there was a problem. Agricultural run off into the Chesapeake and its many rivers were pouring 'sun capturing' nutrients into the Bay’s waters and obstructing the sun from the bottom life. Just like trees and other “green” plants, these tiny organisms capture sunlight and use the sun’s energy to make food. What was good for the Phytoplankton was bad for the eel grass. These fertile eel grass beds were the breeding grounds for most of the diverse life in the rich eco system of the Chesapeake Bay.
About the time Wayne headed off to college in the mid ‘70s, he was noticing that the grasses were thinning. The cause of the loss of eel grass was not clearly understood and more importantly the effect of this loss was not appreciated – but the eel grasses were losing the battle for sunlight. Within the next decade, the undergrowth completely vanished. The eel grass and all its fertile ecosystem had lost the battle against the tide of pollution.
Believing an education in microbiology would be his best tool to help the environment, Wayne graduated from Hampden Sydney College and proceeded to change the world with his unusual approach towards helping the environment. Wayne's first environmental endeavor, which pulled him away from his beloved Chesapeake Bay, was a technology company selling large water treatment systems to municipal and industrial plants. One of the largest products to emerge from his business on the west coast won the highly prestigious "Innovative Product of the Year Award" from the Water Environment Federation.
As he continued to gain knowledge and experience opening and commissioning water treatment plants around the United States, a new and even bigger challenge was thrown his way. The Costa Concordia cruise ship had struck a rock and grounded on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean. The ship wreck just happened to be sitting on a sensitive ecological site that contained some of the world’s most beautiful and diverse marine life – including a reef of rare and exotic giant fan mussels Pinna nobilis.
Wayne and his team spent a year in Italy developing advanced ways to remove these underwater pollutants and eventually helped save the precious eco system and successfully salvage the Costa Concordia.
As the parbuckle project in the Mediterranean was winding down, Wayne and his wife Patty found themselves helping his father take care of the same property at the mouth of the Rappahannock River that he had enjoyed as a child. Gone though were the oystermen who had tonged for wild oysters in his front yard. Where once the wild natural oyster reefs covered the entire bay floor and filled its mighty rivers, now only a few small beds remain.
Taking his typically technical approach to solving environmental problems, Wayne discovered the beneficial art of aquaculture. He realized that he could raise a clean, delicious and sustainable protein source with the added benefit of bringing the Chesapeake Bay back to the lush conditions he once knew as a kid. It was the perfect combination.
Now in our fourth growing season, you might say that Wayne has "made good" on his promise to help heal the Bay. Bay Oyster Company, with leases on the Rappahannock River and on Stingray Point in the Chesapeake Bay, has over 2 million oysters in production and counting.
New sea grass growing next to our bottom cages in an otherwise barren seascape.
We buy seed oyster that are the size of a grain of sand and carefully raise them above the sea floor where they are bathed by the affluent tidal waters of the Chesapeake and Rappahannock. The result is a clean, buttery mid-salinity oyster with a deep full cup we call BayDreams, the best our bay has to offer.