Toby Island Bay Oyster Farm, LLC

Sustainably Farmed
Chincoteague Oysters

About Us

Who is Toby Island Bay Oyster Company?


Chincoteague oysters are storied. Once exported in large numbers to New York and Philadelphia, they were so popular that fistfights over who would get them first would erupt at the Fulton Fish Market.

An Introduction to Chincoteague Island, VA

"Chincoteague oysters are shipped almost exclusively to New York and Philadelphia, and during good seasons command high prices.

"During the season of 1879-'80, Chincoteague oysters were in active demand at high prices, the average for the winter being not less than 60 cents per bushel, and in the latter part of May 90 cents was readily obtained. A feature of the Chincoteague trade is, that all oysters are sold by the thousand, and not by the bushel, as in other parts of Maryland and Virginia. This custom has been adopted in conformity to the usages of northern markets.

"Greenback is a town situated near Franklin, on the Chincoteague bay, the southern terminus of the Old Dominion Steamship Company's railroads on the peninsula. Nearly every man living in Franklin, and every one in Greenback, depends on the oyster-business for his support. Both of these villages have grown up since the war, Greenback being the older place. It was so named by an old oysterman, one of three or four who first planted in the bay in front of the place, because the first season's shipment of oysters returned to the oystermen such a rich reward in greenbacks. This was in 1865, and since then the quality of the oysters produced in this part of Chincoteague bay has been so generally good, that they have made a favorable impression on European shippers."

From Ingersoll, Ernest. 1881. The Oyster-industry. History and present condition of the fishery industries. Tenth Census of the United States. Department of the Interior. 251 p.

"Chincoteague, a beautiful Island by the sea, is part of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, that peninsula which bounds the Chesapeake Bay. The Island, which is nine miles long by perhaps a mile and a half wide, is sheltered not only by the long mainland to the west, but to the east by Assateague, an island running up through Maryland, and is connected with the mainland by a five mile causeway and bridges. This little island town of about four thousand inhabitants has indeed been given the right name meaning ‘The Beautiful Land Across the Water.'

"The Island received its name from the tribe of Indians known as the Gingo-Teague Tribe.

"When the white man came, he came to possess, and so the small Indian tribes were driven away to the Mainland and their island home was theirs no more. Thus Chincoteague was first settled in 1672.

"The Chincoteague Pony, now a registered breed, descends from the 'wild' horses on Assateague Island, a 37 mile long barrier island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. The 'wild' horses on Assateague are actually feral animals, meaning that they are descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state.

"[T]he internationally famous "Pony Penning" event… began in some form during the 17th century when unclaimed horses were captured and marked by colonists in the presence of neighbors on a day of fellowship and festivity. The modem Pony Penning began in 1924 as an effort to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and is still held on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July. The Virginia herd, rounded up by the Chincoteague "saltwater cowboys", swims across the channel (at slack tide) to Chincoteague on Wednesday in front of thousands of cheering spectators. The swim takes about 5-10 minutes. Most of the foals are auctioned off on Thursday and the remaining horses swim back to Assateague on Friday."

Fom Lillian Mears Rew's book, Assateague & Chincoteague: As I Remember Them.

More on the history of Chincoteague oysters

"Without Chincoteague Bay, there would have been no oysters. Without oysters there would have been no watermen. Without watermen and their families there would have been no train, no houses, no commerce, or anything else.

"The real heyday for Chincoteague oysters was during the late 1800s and very early 1900s. During this time, the boomtowns of Greenbackville and Franklin [on the mainland, across the bay from Chincoteague] thrived thanks to bivalve gold. Even though native Chincoteague oysters were gone by the 1940s due to overfishing and disease, there was a second period of economic viability that resulted from planting seed oysters.

"[Oysters transplanted from the Chesapeake Bay into Chincoteague Bay] allowed them to be marketed as Chincoteague Bay and also gave them a saltier taste than oysters from other areas. Good (fat, salty and large) seaside, or salt oysters, as they were called, would rest and fatten in the Chincoteague Bay for two to three years before being harvested. Of course, this business like any other had those who would cut corners and harvest them as soon as they had been in the water a few hours or days. Nevertheless, when a menu or sign in Baltimore, Philadelphia or New York read "Chincoteague Oysters," these transplants brought top dollar.

"[T]hey brought their catch back to sell to one of thee shucking houses or to a broker who would in turn sort, put them in barrels, ice them down, and send them to the cities by the Delaware, Maryland & Virginia Railroad that came to Franklin City...and sent on its way to Baltimore and Philadelphia as well as to such places as New York's Fulton Fish Market."

From Burns, M.A. and L.S. Hartsock. 2007. Voices of the Chincoteague: Memories of Greenbackville and Franklin City. Arcadia Publishing, Mount Pleasant, SC. 224 p.

Growing Methods

Environmentally Responsible

Farming oysters and other filter-feeding bivalve shellfish benefits the environment.

Oysters improve water quality by filtering phytoplankton (algae), which reduces excess nutrients, making the water more transparent. This helps bottom plants, on which many other organisms depend, to thrive.

Farmed oysters also reduce fishing pressure on and (if they spawn) help to restock local wild populations, and provide habitat for many other organisms.

Few other farmed products can make such a claim. The leading independent guides and certification programs for responsible seafood, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch and the Aquarium of the Pacific's Sustainable Seafood Forum, and environmental nonprofits such as The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund, give culturing oysters in floating bags or on bottom racks — our practices — their top ranking.

Socioeconomically Sustainable

Because wild shellfish stocks have declined in so many areas, large numbers of commercial fishermen can no longer support themselves with shellfish harvesting. They have had to find income from totally unrelated activities.

Small-scale shellfish aquaculture can provide marine-based livelihoods for these watermen, preserving a lifestyle and trade crucial to maintaining the integrity of Chincoteague and other seaside towns.

Our operation has involved local Chincoteague watermen from the start and has provided full-time employment for two of them.

It's a Win-Win Situation

"Oyster farming is one of the few situations in which both economics and the environment win: any body of water that can support a vibrant oyster industry will almost certainly be cleaner and more vital than one that cannot. Farmed salmon may turn flabby, bland and, without the addition of dye to its diet, dully grey, but eating an oyster will always be, as Léon-Paul Fargue, a Symbolist poet, said, 'like kissing the sea on the lips.'"
The Economist, Dec 18th 2008

Shellfish Recipes

From the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association

Laurie Higgins has some delectable seafood recipes on her blog, including Thai Inspired Mussels, Stuffed Clams, and The Best Oysters Rockefeller You'll Ever Eat

The Washington Post ran a story profiling Virginia oyster farmer Bruce Wood in its Lifestyle section on October 25, 2011. At the end of that article were some oyster recipes you won't want to overlook:

Chowdered Roasted Oysters
Roasted Cressed Oysters With Lemon Grass and Ginger
Kimchi Vegetable Soup With Oysters
Oyster Beignets With Smoked Oyster Sauce

Celebrity chefs from around the country gathered in beautiful Savannah, Georgia on March 23, 2009 to prepare their favorite dishes showcasing regional clam varieties at our second annual tasting event, Romancing the Clam. Now you can order the DVD, including video of the chefs in action and an illustrated recipe booklet.

Or, download a pdf file of their clam recipes including:

Clams Oconee with Vidalia Onions and Bacon
Low Country Linguine
Little Neck Soup
Portuguese Clam Stew with Chorizo and Kale
Southwest Clams with Tasso and Rouille
Northern Neck Clams
Manila Clams Sauteed Asian Style
Vietnamese Style Geoduck Salad
Florida Clams with Andouille Sausage and Plum Tomatoes
Florida Sunray Venus Clams with Fresh Citrus and Cilantro
Holiday Harbor Clams

Other recipes we like:

Tequila Lime Mignonette Sauce for oysters and mussels by Chef John Ash from "Monterey Bay Aquarium Cooking for Solutions 2002 Recipes."

Cuban Mojo Sauce chipotle peppers and freshly ground cumin seeds give this lime-based sauce a decidedly Cuban kick.

Roasted Oysters with Shallots & Herbs from "High Heat Grilling and Roasting Year-Round with Master Chef Waldy Malouf" by Waldy Malouf and Melissa Clark.

Oyster and Herb Stuffing for Poultry adapted from "Oysters - A Culinary Celebration" by Joan Reardon and Ruth Ebling.

Oysters with Raspberry Mignonette Granité from by Roy Finamore. Garnishing raw oysters with a sharp mignonette sauce frozen into icy shards makes for no-muss, no-fuss serving.

Clams Casino.

Gourmet magazine's Oyster Po' Boy, the iconic New Orleans sandwich featuring fried oysters inside a supercrisp cornmeal shell.

Oysters Bienville

Linguini with Clam Sauce

Oysters Rockefeller

Rob Garrison's Upper Class Oysters and Gef Flimlin's Dirty Oysters -two very similar recipes that pair oysters with caviar.

Our Customers

Black's Bar and Kitchen


Founded on Oyster Shells
Saturday, February 21, 2009
New York, New York

Oyster Riot XIV
Friday, November 21 & Saturday, November 22
Washington, DC

Invitational Oyster Challange
Monday Evening, April 7, 2008
Providence, RI

Let the World Be Your Oyster
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Washington, DC

Contact Us

© Laris Karklis-Washington Post, 2008

Toby Island Bay Oyster Company
5398 Main Street, Chincoteague, VA 23336
United States of America
Telephone: 202-258-9700

©2008- Toby Island Bay Oyster Farm, LLC. All rights reserved.