Eastern oysters are harvested and cultured in shallow bays and estuaries around Prince Edward Island, although their natural range extends as far south as the Caribbean and the Yucatan Peninsula. This oyster prefers brackish water (a mix of salt and freshwater) between eight and 35 feet deep. They are found grouped together in oyster beds. They are slightly smaller and have a smoother shell than the Pacific oyster. These hardy shellfish prefer rocky bottoms but can live in a variety of subtidal and intertidal habitats.
The Eastern oyster has smooth edges and a cupped, oval shape. The shell’s interior is usually off-white to brownish in colour with occasional purple markings. It can grow up to eight inches (24 cm). It has creamy white meat with a firm texture and a mild, sweet flavour that can vary widely depending on cultivation methods and the marine environment.
Eastern oysters grow quickly and reproduce rapidly. They first mature and reproduce as males, then later develop into females. Spawning is seasonal and depends on water temperature. Females are very fecund, producing 100 million eggs during the spawning season. Larvae (also known as spat) disperse into the water column and eventually settle on the seafloor. At this stage, the oyster has developed a foot that secretes a liquid cement to attach itself to a hard surface, preferably the shell of other oysters. They can grow three inches in three years. While most Eastern oysters are harvested in the wild, some are farmed. The oysters are grown using a variety of techniques: they can be placed on the seafloor, suspended in mesh bags or trays in the ocean or attached to rope and wooden frames in the intertidal zone. Different cultivating methods and the marine environment drastically affect the flavour, texture and appearance of Eastern oysters, allowing shellfish growers to create distinctive regional brands, whether farmed or wild.
Fish harvesters use long, hand-held stainless-steel tongs to harvest oysters. The tongs look like a pair of rakes with long handles fastened together, scissor-fashion, about one-third the way up from the rakes.