Article below featured in Wicked Local Provincetown
By Katy Ward
WELLFLEET (October 21, 2016) — Call it what teasing festival-goers did — “NoysterFest,” “OysterMess,” “OysterStress.” This year’s OysterFest was a success, even after a state-driven closure of local shellfish beds prevented the serving of the event’s signature raw seafood.
Mac Hay, co-owner of the Wellfleet Shellfish Company and board member of Shellfish Promotion and Tasting (SPAT), said attendance at the festival clocked in right around 17,000 — a little less than the previous year’s, which brought an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 visitors.
“Even without the star attractions, we raised a good amount of awareness within the shellfish community by the absence of Wellfleet oysters,” Hay said. “We made the best of it as an organization and the audience and attendees made the best of it.”
Visitors may have noticed the absence of shuckers lining Main Street, slinging raw oysters at lightning speed and serving the tasty treats by the dozen at shellfish stands, but Hay said other vendors stepped up to the plate to fill in last-minute slots.
“Obviously the raw bar [vendors] did not attend. But luckily we had a few arts and craft vendors that were able to fill in some of the vacant spots,” he said.
First-time vendors at the scene, staff from the Orleans-based treat shop The Local Scoop, said the lack of Wellfleet oysters did not appear to dampen attendees’ enthusiasm.
“We still had a great turnout and long lines,” said The Local Scoop’s production manager, Emily Brouillette. “We did smoothies, sweet crepes and a savory Oyster Rockefeller Crepes.” She added that they used a Bayshore brand caught wild outside of Massachusetts.
Another local clothing vendor, Artichoke, seized the moment and made light of the situation by creating and printing last minute T-Shirts inscribed, “Aw Shucks, No Oysters!”
A suspected outbreak of norovirus illness led the state Dept. of Public Health and Div. of Marine Fisheries to order the closing of Wellfleet shellfish beds on Thursday, Oct. 13 and the recall of shellfish harvested on or after Sept. 26. The affected areas were Wellfleet harbor and inner harbor, Herring River and Loagy Bay. The actions meant that there was essentially no raw shellfish available for OysterFest weekend.
Health officials received reports of approximately 75 people sickened by eating raw shellfish on the Outer Cape in the two days preceding the closure. Noroviruses are spread through contaminated food, person-to-person contact or contact with contaminated surfaces. They cause acute gastroenteritis and are most dangerous to children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. There is no specific medicine to treat norovirus illness.
Wellfleet shellfish constable Andy Koch said the 21-day closure applies to clam and razor clam beds as well as oyster beds. The only shellfishermen spared are those with draggers who can fish for scallops.
Asked about the range of the closure’s potential economic impact, Koch said there are approximately 250 acres of shellfish grants in Wellfleet, and about two to three workers per acre.
Millions of dollars are made every year off the Wellfleet flats, he said.
“It’s never a happy thing,” said Koch of the shutdown. But on the other hand, he said, Wellfleet’s shellfishermen “have been in the business long enough to know that these things happen. A veteran fisherman knows how to roll with the punches. Mother Nature sometimes throws a curve at ya.”
Michele Insley, SPAT’s executive director, said what the organization cared about most was “running a safe and fun festival.”
“We also value the long-term sustainability of our town’s second highest revenue producer, shellfishing, so we are erring on the side of caution,” she said late last week in a press statement titled “the show must go on.”
And that it did.
One New Hampshire couple said this was their first year attending the event. “We heard they wouldn’t be serving any oysters this year, which is too bad, but we still wanted to come and see what it’s all about,” they said, adding that they were having fun and enjoying the clam chowder and lobster fritters.
Another younger local couple said they didn’t care about the oysters. “At least there’s still beer,” they said, laughing.
“People were completely understanding and sympathetic to the cause. We are fortunate to have such a great community that supports shellfishing at a time when we need it most,” Hay said.
Banner staff writer Kaimi Rose Lum contributed to this report.