Rehoboth Bay Oyster Company owners Dave Beebe and Dan Fosnocht aren’t the first aquaculturists to be selling oysters under the state’s still-new shellfish program, but they’re the first to open a dedicated storefront to sell their product.
Located on northbound Coastal Highway, just north of Dewey Beach on the Forgotten Mile, Beebe and Fosnocht opened their store to customers about three weeks ago. The two men had been using the space this summer as a location to clean, shuck and otherwise prepare for harvesting. Fosnocht said it just made sense for them to spruce the space up a bit and give customers a place to pick up orders.
In the early to mid-1900s, the state’s Inland Bays had thousands of acres leased for oyster production. There was enough demand to warrant shucking houses on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and in Oak Orchard. An oyster parasite – called MSX – and competition for acreage by clammers pretty much wiped out the oyster population.
The legislation creating Delaware’s aquaculture program was passed in 2013. After years of finalizing leasing areas within the Inland Bays, the first cages were dropped in spring 2018 by Dewey Beach’s Chris Redefer.
Beebe said Rehoboth Bay Oyster Company dropped its first cages Aug. 15, 2019. A little more than eight months later, in May 2020, the company’s first oysters were harvested, he said.
There are a lot of nutrients in these waters, so the oysters grow quickly, said Beebe, adding, “It’s great to be some of the first people out here doing this.”
Beebe and Fosnocht work as hotel managers. Beebe said they got the idea for shellfish farming after an evening with a few too many drinks. Fosnocht said he thought it was a good idea because it gets them out of the office and into some dirty working clothes. The men keep the offerings simple at the store. Whole oysters, shucked oysters and a few toppings – hot sauce, lemons, horseradish – are all they have to sell.
Beebe said they bought the largest used pontoon boat they could find and stripped it down to nothing. The vessel is named Sea Alice because oysters are supposed to be an aphrodisiac, he said.
There’s a lot of work that goes into this operation, said Beebe. Some days, he said, they're out on their boat doing nothing but scrubbing cages.
“Those days, we’re working for free,” said Beebe.
Beebe said it’s amazing how much difference the weather can make in the taste of the oysters. They always taste good, but if there’s been a lot of rain, the oysters aren’t as salty as if it’s been dry, he said.
Rehoboth Bay was as shallow and the wind as calm as it ever is the morning of the interview. In a little more than an hour, the two men harvested six bushels and headed back to the dock at Rehoboth Bay Marina.
Fosnocht was pleased with how quick the harvest went. It goes so much faster when it’s not windy, he said, adding they would still have gone out if it was cold and windy.
Rehoboth Bay Oyster Company, 20807 Coastal Highway, is open from noon to 5 p.m., Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For more information, go to rehobothbay.com or call 302-227-6100.
Fosnocht said there will be expanded hours because of the holidays. The best way to monitor availability over the next couple of weeks will be the company’s Facebook page.