This Weekend’s Wellfleet OysterFest Nixes Raw Shellfish
Organizers made the call in response to a suspected norovirus outbreak linked to Outer Cape shellfish.
Michelle Insley was planning to check off last-minute items from her to-do list this morning before the 16th annual Wellfleet OysterFest, but instead, she was responding to media inquiries about public health concerns.
On Thursday (the festival starts Saturday), the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Division of Marine Fisheries closed all Wellfleet shellfish beds in response to 75 reported cases of suspected norovirus. The state believes the illness can be traced to consumption of Outer Cape shellfish, including Wellfleet oysters, at weddings and restaurants nearby, according to a press release.
Insley, executive director of Wellfleet SPAT (Shellfish Promotion and Tasting, Inc.), the festival’s organizing non-profit, said it is a very tough decision to ban consumption of oysters on the half shell and other raw shellfish from this weekend’s celebrations.
It’s “devastating to ‘Fest-goers and shellfishermen alike,” she says. But after conferring with state and local agencies, Wellfleet SPAT has prohibited all raw Cape Cod shellfish, not just the bivalves harvested from the Outer Cape, where the state’s closure is in effect. It was a risk organizers aren’t willing to take, as an open street festival, she said. But the Shuck Off, the festival’s most popular attraction, will go on.
“We are able to hold the Shuck Off because we are sourcing product from our friends in Barnstable and we do not plan to eat these oysters,” Insley says.
Shellfishing is Wellfleet’s second-highest revenue generator, and SPAT decided to ban all raw shellfish to protect long-term sustainability of the industry, she added in a press release.
“This is just one year of the ’Fest and what we care about most is running a safe and fun festival,” she says, adding that area restaurants will still offer raw shellfish this weekend, sourced from regions unaffected by the closure.
OysterFest brings tens of thousands of visitors to the Outer Cape each fall, CapeCod.com reports, so SPAT feels responsible to carry on for the community, Insley says. The 21-day shellfishery closure will certainly impact local shellfisherman, but there are other festival vendors who would have been unnecessarily impacted if SPAT had cancelled the festival, Insley says.
“Try conch fritters, pumpkin bisque, fish tacos, roasted sweet corn, savory crepes, steamed mussels and even barbeque,” the organizers suggest in the press release, and wash it down with New England beer.
Over two days, OysterFest also offers live music performances, hands-on crafts, educational seminars and panel discussions with scientists and researchers, film screenings, and more. It helps extend Cape Cod’s regional economy after the busy summer season, Insley says.
“We hope that everyone will show up and show their love for the shellfishing community.”
The festival runs from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, October 15, and Sunday, October 16. Tickets are still available.