Oysters plentiful for holiday season

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - The oysters are fat and salty, and business is good. That's the word from an oyster processing factory in Pass Christian.

Oysters from "Crystal Seas Seafood" end up on dining room and restaurant tables throughout the country. It's a true "seafood success" story in the Pass.

A symphony of hands and hammers shucks oysters non-stop along the production line inside the factory. Shucking oysters takes practice, but these pros make it look easy.

Jennifer Jenkins helps run the family business.

"The only thing they do is they just hit it with a hammer on the hinge. Then they've got an oyster knife that pops the hinge the rest of the way open. And then they cut the eye and put it in the bucket. And that's all that's done to it," Jenkins said.

"The oyster season in Mississippi has been really good. We've got a large supply of them. And they've also been very salty and fat, which is what everybody likes to see," Jenkins said.

From the shucking line, gallon buckets of raw oysters are ready for washing.

"It's like a waterfall. It just pushes the oysters down. They're light enough to float and the shell sediment falls to the bottom," Jenkins explained.

Crystal Seas is a family run business with roots in Virginia.

"We're from the east coast, and we were in the seafood business on the east coast. So, that's how we got in the seafood business," said Phyllis Jenkins, Jennifer's mom.

This time of year, oyster business grows quickly toward a holiday high.

"I guess the good old oyster stuffing. We'll hear a lot about that. And it's just a tradition all over the country basically," Phyllis Jenkins said.

Along with processing fresh, raw oysters, a growing part of this business is IQF: Individually Quick Frozen.

"We put the oysters on one end of the conveyor belt. And nine minutes later they're completely frozen," said Jennifer Jenkins.

The backbone of the factory is its immigrant workers.

"We bring them in here; they stay for nine or ten months, and then they usually return home. And we're lucky enough to have a lot of them return season after season," Jennifer Jenkins said.

Fresh or frozen, Crystal Seas has more than enough to satisfy this holiday season's oyster appetite. Crystal Seas Seafood is on West North Street in Pass Christian.

The plant had 13 feet of water inside after Katrina. But a quick clean-up allowed the seafood business to re-open just two months after the storm.