Brian Terry grew up plying his family’s fourth-generation oyster trade around Hog Island Bay, Virginia. Anything but easy work, he somehow managed to duck hunt, too, and that eventually lead to a related product development in response to his family’s tough-love company hiring policy. Describing how and why his great-great-grandfather founded H.M. Terry Company, he gives us a salty crash course in clamming and oystering, explaining once and for all why you never, ever eat oysters in months ending with the letter R!
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, where today I am up near Chesapeake Bay, fabled area Eastern Waterfowl Festival. But this is not about duck hunting necessarily, this is about my favorite topic, which is food, which is really my favorite food group, which is shellfish. I don’t care if it’s crawfish down the Gulf coast or lobsters up in Maine, especially the ones you got to work hard to pry open them shells, man, I am all the freak in, I love shellfish. And last night I got treated to a rare treat, bumped into my buddy Brian Terry, dry waiters and I’ve known him really good. And the other day we were at Doc’s Bar in downtown Easton and got to talking, he said, I’m going to cook oysters and buddy, last night after the duck calling contest, I walked out to the fairway and he was neck deep in crabs and clams and oysters and we had a big old party right there in front of the Boss Shotshell van and we stayed late up in the night eating till I thought I was going to explode like a big fat great tick. Had a great time, but Brian Terry, how you doing?
Brian Terry: I’m doing well, thanks, Ramsey.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you for last night. That was the highlight of east of Maryland to me was last night’s dinner and you made it look so easy, with a little practice, I think you’re going to be good at that. Have you ever done that before?
Brian Terry: It’s not my first rodeo.
Ramsey Russell: First question I had, how did you know how much to bring and how many were going to come in? When you start breaking out food like that in kind of a public space, people just show up.
Brian Terry: Well, that’s why you always go heavy. The people that sit there and say they want a dozen clams and we talked about this last night about, oh, I’d like to get me a half dozen, let me get 12, 24, you don’t do that, you bring enough to fill everybody’s belly. And if you’re going to literally sit there and belly up, if you will to eat, you want a good 30 to 40 bivalves per person to sit there and get a good meal in you.
Ramsey Russell: You steamed those oysters last night and I like steamed oysters, raw oysters, fried oysters, bubba gump oysters, I’m all in. But man, rule number one is, if I can avoid it, don’t sit down while eating shellfish, because you fill up quicker.
Brian Terry: You absolutely do.
Ramsey Russell: I want to stand up. And when I start getting full, standing up, all right, see you all.
Brian Terry: You got it right. And that’s like at every oyster festival, every oyster roast, clam, bake, whatever you want to call it, everybody is always at an elevated table, so you stand and eat, so you get your money’s worth. So a lot of these events are expensive and you want to make sure that you’re full, get your belly full.
Ramsey Russell: It was awesome. It really, truly was awesome. This is a real interesting area, as this Eastern Waterfowl Festival points out, it’s a tremendous amount of waterfowl hunting heritage and culture, it’s almost like the cradle between here and Long Island, let’s say, it’s kind of the cradle of American waterfowling, because that’s where humanity became established. You had shipping ports, you had abundance of waterfowl. But as Mr. Jim Pierce pointed out the other day, we were talking about Havre de Grace there, Brian and he said, he kind of clarified, it’s like Havre de Grace wasn’t a duck hunting community, it was a waterman community. And the original inhabitants went from oysters to cod to ducks to clams to whatever was in season. I really think you’re a modern day water man.
Brian Terry: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: How did you get into oyestering?
Brian Terry: Well, it’s just like you talk about where everything originated from Long island, so my family is originally from Sable, Long Island.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, really?
Brian Terry: Yeah. So we came in, being from a waterman back then and being running boats from Sable, Long Island down all the way to Florida Keys.
Ramsey Russell: I had no idea.
Brian Terry: Yeah. So my great great grandfather was a captain of a ship that he was basically the modern day, back in the day captain, it wasn’t a skipper ship, but it was kind of like a cargo ship, if you will.
Ramsey Russell: And so he’s the one that started H.M Terry Company?
Brian Terry: His son did. So story has it that they were coming back from one of their runs, so Blue Point Oyster Company is a very well known oyster company from eons ago and they were bringing some of their seed oysters back up from Florida. And as story goes, they got caught in a storm off the coast of Virginia and came into a little port called Willis Wharf, Virginia. And when they got caught in the storm, they almost sunk their boat and back in the day, when you carried shellfish, you tied it off and hung it off the side of the boat as you made your voyage from wherever you were going.
Ramsey Russell: That’s how you transported them.
Brian Terry: That’s how they transport them, to keep them alive and fresh.
Ramsey Russell: I had no idea.
Brian Terry: Yes. They hung them over the side of the boat. And my great grandfather, what happened was, from story has it, they got in the storm and almost sunk their vessel and they had to cut the seed oysters off to save them from sinking. And they lowered him down and what happened was he got hit by a wave and he went underneath the vessel and back and forth and damn near lost his life and when he got to Willis Wharf, he said, I’m done.
Ramsey Russell: I got to find a simpler way of life.
Brian Terry: Exactly. He stayed there and met my great grandmother and decided to get in the oyster business and that’s when he started H.M Terry Company back in 1903.
Ramsey Russell: Where did it go from there? Now we’re on the shore, more or less, we got this Choptank River down here, we got the Chesapeake Bay, but just really as a goose or a duck flies, we’re really not too far from out where you’re from, which is really Virginia.
Brian Terry: Yes, sir. So it’s the part of Virginia that nobody recognizes, that’s Virginia. It’s the eastern shore of Virginia that is actually at its widest point, which is closer to Maryland, it’s 7 miles wide and it’s about 60 some miles long and they have what’s a modern marvel, it’s the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, which is the world’s largest bridge and tunnel combination, that is manmade and still privately owned.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve been under it, I’ve driven that, it is a modern day marvel to get off to that part of the world where you’re from, now that’s where you grew up was in that part of Virginia. So after your great great granddaddy almost lost his life, coming back with some seed oysters and decided to not be that captain no more, is that where he took up residence, was in Virginia?
Brian Terry: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: So his family came from New York to Virginia, that kind of way. And how did he fall off into the – do you know enough about the family history about how H.M Terry Company Oyster was developed and how it scaled and how it grew? Generational dynasty.
Brian Terry: I know enough to scratch the surface. My uncle is more of the historian, if you will and he tells me a lot and teaches me a lot, but unfortunately, this is something that I have not recorded and my memory is selective. But it’s a story that is one for the ages and to be a 4th generation.
Ramsey Russell: 4th generation?
Brian Terry: Yes, sir. And to have my cousins involved still and they’ve taken over the company and they’re carrying it through and it’s a very viable, sustainable company. To say that, to have a company that’s over 115 years old and 4 generations later, that is a powerhouse in the industry, it’s very rare.
Ramsey Russell: Do you ever wondered who the first man to open up a oyster, because I can eat them sons of bitches. I’m glad he did, but I’m just saying.
Brian Terry: It’s the same brave man that decided to crack that egg that came out of the chicken.
Ramsey Russell: No doubt. And they didn’t have no bacon grease fried.
Brian Terry: No, sir.
Ramsey Russell: They didn’t.
Brian Terry: But I tell you what, when you’re out on the water and we grow about 80% of our shellfish in what’s called Hog Island Bay. And Hog Island Bay is a really unique area and it’s actually the world’s largest bay that’s not fed from an inland water source. And as small as we are and as redneck and poo dunk as we can be, it’s actually recognized by the United Nations as an Eco biosphere.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Brian Terry: It’s unbelievable. It’s some of the most pristine waters in the world.
Ramsey Russell: I had no idea. Do you also duck hunt there? Is that where you duck hunt over there?
Brian Terry: I certainly do. And some of the best black duck hunting you can imagine.
Ramsey Russell: I love shellfish and I know somebody’s going to give me a hard time about saying this, but it’s the truth. I like eating oysters further to the north, what I call cold water oysters better than I like eating Gulf coast oysters. And I eat a bunch of Gulf coast oysters, but I like the ones grown up north better. Is that got something to do with temperature?
Brian Terry: It’s actually not temperature, it’s salinity.
Ramsey Russell: Salinity.
Mississippi River’s Impact: Contrasting the Influences of the Mississippi River on Gulf Ecosystems
And it all trickles back to what I was saying about Hog Island Bay, that a lot of other places, like in the Gulf, you got the Mississippi River, which is a huge sediment.
Brian Terry: It’s salinity. And then it’s also a lot to do with how much algae and food and growth in the water there. And it all trickles back to what I was saying about Hog Island Bay, that a lot of other places, like in the Gulf, you got the Mississippi River, which is a huge sediment, they carry a lot of everything. To break it all the way down from what we were talking about just a second ago, chicken from chicken shit to raccoon shit to deer, ducks, cows and then also runoff from farming chemicals and all kinds of pesticides and the herbicides and you get all that runoff down carrying all the way through to the Gulf.
Ramsey Russell: Almost half the United States is coming down that Mississippi River. On the flip side of that, because of all that sediment, that mud bottom in the Gulf is why it’s such a productive shrimp, it’s why it grows shrimp.
Brian Terry: So shrimp, an oyster and a clam, they’re filter feeders, so whatever, excuse me for saying this, but they filter the shit out of the water.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, they do, don’t they?
Brian Terry: Yes, they do.
Ramsey Russell: What are your earliest memories? How did you get into oystering? I mean, was that just a foregone conclusion that if you’re 4th generation oyster family, you’re going to be out there on a boat doing oysters?
Brian Terry: So as a child, my friends were hydro sliding, water skiing, fishing, playing and I was getting kicked in the butt and smacked in the face and say, get up, it’s time to go to work.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Because that is not easy work. It’s not like being a lifeguard at the swimming pool, is it?
Brian Terry: I would have loved to have been a lifeguard. No, sir, it’s not. It’s a very taxing, demanding, backbreaking job.
Ramsey Russell: Are you old enough to remember your granddad?
Brian Terry: I very much so.
Ramsey Russell: Was he also an everyday oyster man?
Brian Terry: Yes, sir. So both my grandfather and my great uncle, his brother, they worked until literally the day they passed.
Ramsey Russell: Let’s talk a little bit about, like, I know now that you all farm oysters. How does that differ from what the previous generation – did your granddad start to farm or did your dad?
Brian Terry: My father and my uncle.
Ramsey Russell: Father and uncle. Okay, so that’s recent.
Brian Terry: Yes, sir. Late 80s.
Ramsey Russell: So half of those 4 generations, it was wild oysters.
Brian Terry: It was back in the day when they were doing wild, it was all mainly shucking. And at one point, we were doing about 100,000 bushels of oyster shucking a year.
Ramsey Russell: When you say shucking, do you mean sitting there and shucking them open or that’s what you call –
Brian Terry: Yes, sir. So when you get a fried oyster.
Ramsey Russell: Okay, you want to get a fried oyster, it’s shucked.
Brian Terry: It’s been shucked. So it’s out of the shell.
Ramsey Russell: How are you getting those? I know nothing. I know that there’s parts of the world because I’ve done it, you can walk around and fill them oysters in the mud and reach down and pick them up. How are you all out there collecting all these oysters to have 100,000 pounds, whatever, shucks?
Brian Terry: 100,000 bushels.
Ramsey Russell: 100,000 bushels. How are you getting all those? Are you dragging the bottom with a net?
Brian Terry: No, sir. You’re not.
Ramsey Russell: Is that like shrimping?
Brian Terry: It is not.
Ramsey Russell: Because I know nothing about the origins of my favorite food.
Brian Terry: So here’s the thing. Imagine an oyster, they grow on what’s called an oyster rock. So if they’re in the mud, they’re going to die. So an oyster as a larvae, as their beginning stages, it’s kind of like –
Ramsey Russell: Is it like something floating around in the water?
Brian Terry: Exactly. So kind of like a sperm floating around in the water. And then what happens is it floats and then it attaches to an object and then it starts to grow and form from there. So their shells are primarily calcium and as they grow, they build calcium and sustain their body and protect themselves from predation. And then as a rock forms, it just creates basically like a mountain, if you will. So back in the day –
Ramsey Russell: It was like a reef.
Brian Terry: Yes, sir. So back in the day, where they used to have to go out and you pick them up with your hands. And so where we are, we have, on average, every day about a 6ft rise and fall and tide. So everything, even today is centered around the tide. So at low water, these huge oyster rocks are exposed and you go out and you have a crew of however many people to go out and essentially stand there with, it’s called a culling hammer and sit there and cull the oysters and throw them in a box or in a basket and dump them in your boat and then back in the day, that’s how they did it. They filled up a basket, dumped it in the boat, shoveled it out of the boat onto a huge barge that’s called a monitor and filled a monitor up. And once the monitor was full, then they would tow the monitor in from out into the bay back to the dock and that process could take upwards of weeks.
Ramsey Russell: So there’s a rock formation out in the water and all these little sperms, little oyster sperms attach to it and then what? Walk me through the whole life ecology as much as you can. From that rock, how does the bivalve develop around that oyster?
Brian Terry: Unfortunately, that is part of it that I am not specialized in, but it’s essentially just like any other mammal or crustacean or anything. Bivalve all included that it just starts once it attaches, that’s basically, let’s call it its home base. And then it starts forming its body and its life around it and creating its sustainable life.
Ramsey Russell: And all of those little bivalve – like last night, you take a pot, you dump it out, it’s all these loose oysters, but all them were attached to each other at some point of time, you had to knock a hammer to get them apart.
Brian Terry: Correct. So when an oyster naturally grows, they grow in what’s called a cluster and they grow in a bunch.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve seen sometimes you got like 2 or 3 of them attached together.
Brian Terry: Correct.
Ramsey Russell: Boy, that’s a good one to get, because you get to crack open 3 at one time.
Brian Terry: That’s one handful.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Brian Terry: But back in the day, that wasn’t all that much fun.
Ramsey Russell: We know something else that struck me, because the tide don’t move at 06:00 every day of the year.
Brian Terry: No, sir.
Ramsey Russell: So your day started at around the clock.
Brian Terry: The tide waits for no man. So your day starts when that tide tells you to start, so anywhere from 1 in the morning till it doesn’t matter when. I guess it’s probably one of my worst but best memories was Christmas morning at about 4AM or 5AM I’m out oystering and clamming and 40 knot winds and we actually ended up sinking the boat that morning, I guess that was God’s way of telling us to get our asses home.
Ramsey Russell: And when the tide comes in, your day out in the field is over, now you go back and do. What do you do? You get those birds in that monitor boat, you get those oysters in that monitor, it goes back to the shop. Now what?
Brian Terry: So modern day?
Ramsey Russell: Walk me through both of them. I have no idea.
Brian Terry: So back in the day, what would happen is you would bring that monitor full of oysters in and then once you get to the dock, that’s when the fun starts. That’s when you literally start shoveling these oysters off of a boat onto a conveyor that –
Ramsey Russell: And they’re not light.
Brian Terry: No, sir. There is nothing light in this industry.
Ramsey Russell: Like shoveling rocks.
Brian Terry: Exactly for hours. And then you shove them into luckily, back, they came out with a conveyor belt and that helped a lot because it used to be shovel into a basket, then took the basket into the building to dump the basket onto a shucking table for about 50 guys to stand and women to stand around and shuck oysters.
Ramsey Russell: That’s all they do. I bet they can shuck an oyster.
Brian Terry: You talk about having a forearm and a hand, back in the day, yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Unfortunately, that’s a skill I have not yet mastered.
Brian Terry: I wish I hadn’t.
Ramsey Russell: I like the steamed oysters because I can fly through them things.
Brian Terry: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: And it’s a little aggravating to me to be handled a bushel of raw oysters, which I love and have to shuck them and pry them open and everything else myself.
Brian Terry: It’s an art.
Ramsey Russell: It really is an art.
Brian Terry: And I’ll tell you this, it’s all about –
Ramsey Russell: How old were you when you’ve shucked your first oyster? What age does a 4th generation oyster man shuck his first oyster without stabbing himself through the hand?
Brian Terry: Now, you’re the caveat. That stabbing part, I’ll tell you, I couldn’t even answer the age, but I can tell you, when you’re out there in the middle of the bay and you get hungry, you’re going to find a way to get in that oyster.
Ramsey Russell: Really? You ate them too.
Brian Terry: 100%. Still do.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Brian Terry: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: I wonder how come it is because you talk to some people, like in the poultry industry that just work in chicken house, they ain’t eating no chicken.
Brian Terry: They’re confused.
Ramsey Russell: You think they are?
Brian Terry: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: Well, chicken ain’t an oyster.
Brian Terry: I like oysters more than chicken.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Brian Terry: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: Do you love them?
Brian Terry: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: Is that one of your favorite foods?
Brian Terry: Actually, I think clams. I like clams more than oysters.
Ramsey Russell: Talk a little bit about – Okay, now conveyor belt comes up, I got 50 or 60 men and women shucking oysters. Walk me through there to Ramsay walking up to Kroger and getting his oyster. I know the market has got a lot of moving pieces in it.
Brian Terry: So you’re asking me to translate about 40 years of time lapse in 5 minutes or less. Thank you for that. So from that time frame to now is night and day. So now there is not as much of what went on 50 years ago as what happens today. It’s still the same process, if you will. You still have to shuck them, but now they actually have machines that can shuck oysters.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Brian Terry: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: I need one of machines, that’s what I want for Christmas, baby.
Brian Terry: I tell you what, it’s only about probably $1.5 million.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I don’t need that one.
Brian Terry: Okay.
Ramsey Russell: I need a consumer model, dump my sack of oysters in there sit on the other side with my horseradish and eat them coming off.
Brian Terry: You got to find the same type of person who can pick a crab.
Ramsey Russell: But it’s a big industry. How big is the oyster industry?
Brian Terry: I honestly couldn’t tell you.
Ramsey Russell: It’s big.
Brian Terry: I wouldn’t be shocked if it was in the millions.
Ramsey Russell: A 4th generation industry. How many moving pieces? I mean it’s got to be a lot of – you sell those shucked oysters to a wholesaler who sells them to a grocer or is there more moving pieces than that?
Brian Terry: There’s way more moving pieces. So typically in modern day typically we sell more product in the shell than we do out of the shell. Just because of having, like you said, having the art and the knowledge to shuck an oyster, that generation and those people that have that skill set are fading out. So we still have about a half dozen people that are in their 70s that still shuck oysters for us. But from that to get a person in their 20s to want to come to work to stand there and talk and just sing and stand at a table and shuck an oyster is gone. I won’t go off on a tangent on what the employment prospects are these days on any type of industry, but it’s non-existent. So we sell more product in the shell and what we do is we don’t sell so much straight to the consumer. There’s like Whole Foods, Publix, Costco just to name a few and name drop, they are our grocery chains that we partner with and we do an enormous amount of business with, we sell direct to those.
Ramsey Russell: A lot of the orchards that H.M Terry Company is growing and making, are they ending up mostly in American markets?
Brian Terry: Primarily.
Ramsey Russell: Not overseas?
Wine and Oyster Pairing Trend: Exploring the Trend of Pairing Oysters with Wine and Its Growing Appeal Among Consumers.
So everybody wants to go and get their wine and oyster, they want to pair it and from farm to table in so many ways.
Brian Terry: Well, we had scratched the surface on that market probably about half dozen years ago, about 6 years ago. But now it’s kind of gotten to the point where the US market and the demand has been so strong that there’s no need to go anywhere else. So as the population of America has really been turned on to oysters, oysters are this new fad, it’s like a foodie product. So everybody wants to go and get their wine and oyster, they want to pair it and from farm to table in so many ways.
Ramsey Russell: First off, wine pairs good with beer. Oysters pair best with beer, not wine. I ain’t got time. My hands are such a mess sitting there shucking up in them oysters, I’m grabbing a cold beer and chugging.
Brian Terry: Well, I’ll tell you what, drinking a wine out of the bottle isn’t a bad thing to do either.
Ramsey Russell: shucking like a pro.
Brian Terry: There you go.
Ramsey Russell: Well, what kind of wine does pair good with an oyster, your highness?
Brian Terry: Well, let’s get all proper now, it can go from – I don’t get into these, I’m a basic wine guy. I like Chardonnays and white wines are the best. But you get into all types of blends and this and that and I don’t go that far.
Ramsey Russell: You know what kind of beer pairs best with an oyster?
Brian Terry: Miller Lite.
Ramsey Russell: The next one. Whatever you’re drinking, I’ll have.
Brian Terry: There you go. And don’t let the cooler run empty.
Ramsey Russell: Like it did last night.
Brian Terry: Exactly. I tell you what, when we ran out, everybody left.
Ramsey Russell: They sure did. I got there in time for the seafood, but I was too late for the beer.
Brian Terry: Yes, sir. That’s it.
Ramsey Russell: That’s what I get for dragging, coming in late.
Brian Terry: That’s what happens when you got to go to work.
Ramsey Russell: If you ain’t early, you’re late.
Brian Terry: Yeah, that’s it.
Ramsey Russell: Especially to a beer drinking at an oyster cooking. What’s the difference in an oyster and a clam? I know there’s a difference, I know different shells, different meats, different tastes. But in terms of how they’re grown or how they’re farmed.
Brian Terry: They’re absolutely 2 totally different animals and they grow 2 totally different ways. So a clam is grown in bottom, oysters are off bottom.
Ramsey Russell: So a clam is the mud.
Brian Terry: Clams in the mud. And the taste of a clam is not only dictated by the salinity in the water that it’s grown in, it also the bottom, the soil that it’s grown in from sand to mud and the mud content dictates the color of the shell, the way it looks, the way it tastes, the time of year has a lot to do with it, there’s so many variations of getting a clam versus an oyster and their flavor profile. And as far as the amount –
Ramsey Russell: What about the time of year they’re farmed?
Brian Terry: So that doesn’t matter.
Ramsey Russell: It doesn’t matter.
Brian Terry: Not anymore. So everybody like an oyster, everybody says you want something in their R months and that’s what back in the day –
Ramsey Russell: That doesn’t matter up here in these cooler climates, does it? Like, I’ve been to Boston and eaten them 12 months out of year and they’re delicious.
Brian Terry: Okay. So since the time has changed since from wild to aquaculture, that’s what’s made the big difference. So everybody always said you eat oysters in the R months. Well, that had to be back in the day when there was two reasons, number one, as far as transportation and temperature. So when there was no refrigerated trucks back in the 30s and 40s it was all horseback and train. So transporting an oyster in warmer climates wasn’t really doable, it was very hard to accomplish. So the other thing number two is when spring gets here and waters warm up, it’s just like everything else in life, it’s the time to reproduce. So when an oyster reproduces, they lose 80% of their body mass.
Ramsey Russell: Really.
Brian Terry: They shoot it all out.
Ramsey Russell: That ain’t the time of year, you want to eat one?
Brian Terry: No, sir, it’s skin and water. And when you open them, a wild oyster, a sext, if you will oyster, they’re called a diploid for a proper term. Right before they spawn, when you open an oyster, it looks like a milky oyster. And when you go to town on that, you’re eating their sperm and that meat.
Ramsey Russell: Are there male and female oysters?
Brian Terry: There sure are.
Ramsey Russell: How do you tell the difference?
Brian Terry: You don’t. But an oyster can actually does and can change sexes in their life. Yeah, just like they’re doing today.
Ramsey Russell: Just like these woke folks are doing, not all of us. Is a clam kind of the same way?
Brian Terry: A clam is not.
Ramsey Russell: So what are they doing differently?
Brian Terry: So they’re actually being –
Ramsey Russell: Are they floating around like little seeds in the water too?
Brian Terry: No, sir, they’re not. When they spawn, so clam when it spawns, it literally shoots its sperm up into the water column. And then the male, the female, it all kind of blends together in the water column and then next thing you know, if fish don’t eat them and birds and everything else, then they hit the bottom and they start to grow and they grow in the marsh grass and things like that and really soft mud and then their shell starts to form and they go straight down in the mud. And depending on the time of the year, because a clam, typically, it’s kind of in the wintertime, in the cold water times, it’s kind of like a hibernation. So in the wintertimes, they go further down in the mud, in the summertime, they’re kind of closer to the surface.
Ramsey Russell: When and why did your family, your dad and uncle, transition from wild oysters, hammers, rocks beaten on the reef to aquaculture, to farming oysters? And how are they farm?
Brian Terry: Well, it was out of necessity. So a virus hit that literally in a matter of months, wiped out the wild oyster, as everybody knew it from the Gulf coast all the way up the east coast.
Ramsey Russell: So that wasn’t over harvest or anything like that that was something like some kind of flu or some kind of parasite or something.
Brian Terry: Exactly.
Ramsey Russell: It wasn’t those little green clams I heard about, were they?
Brian Terry: No, sir.
Ramsey Russell: Not green clams, little green crabs or something got up north.
Brian Terry: No, that’s not. No, that’s a different thing. And that was a transplant here, something from overseas. Just like we get COVID, we get green crabs and snakehead fish and all kinds of shit. None of it we want.
Ramsey Russell: Except for egg rolls, I want egg rolls.
Brian Terry: You and me both. I like them.
Ramsey Russell: Go ahead.
Brian Terry: So what happened was it wiped out the wild oyster. So I remember stories of, this was my great uncle and my uncle telling me that they had just planted seed oysters and went out to start harvesting back, this would have been in November, December around in there and within 3 weeks, they lost every single oyster rock and every piece of ground we had in the bay was full of nothing but dead oysters and shell.
Ramsey Russell: So how did they get started? How are oysters –
Brian Terry: It starts on land –
Ramsey Russell: Are they hanging on a net? Is that what I’m thinking? I’m thinking something else.
Brian Terry: No, you’re thinking something else. Those are mussels.
Ramsey Russell: Mussels, okay.
Brian Terry: You’re thinking of mussels. But to transition from wild to farm. So everything now that’s farm raised is all done on land in a building.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, it’s not out in Hog Bay no more.
Brian Terry: It is, once they get to a certain size.
Ramsey Russell: Walk me through that process.
Brian Terry: So what it is, is basically we take Mother Nature and bring it indoors.
Ramsey Russell: You bring the seeds inside.
Warm and Inviting Atmosphere: Creating an Atmosphere with Warmth and Music to Facilitate the Breeding Process.
So we put a little music on, little Marvin Gaye, that’s when you pair wine with it. So you sit there and get everybody all excited and warm
Brian Terry: We do the sexing, if you will, inside, make it nice and warm in a building. So we put a little music on, little Marvin Gaye, that’s when you pair wine with it. So you sit there and get everybody all excited and warm the water up and they start sperming. And it’s all in a controlled environment. And then as it takes roughly about 6 months from the time from consumption or conception and all the way until we take them now out into the bay. So it’s a full on long process of different types of growing methods, but everything is very controlled and everything is indoors.
Ramsey Russell: You grow them indoors and then you take them out to Hog Bay.
Brian Terry: Exactly, Hog Island.
Ramsey Russell: Dump them off the side into a pile.
Brian Terry: I wish it was that easy. That sounds great, but as far as an oyster grows. No, we make these off bottom cages, they’re 4ft by 4ft out of mesh wire that’s dipped in plastic basically –
Ramsey Russell: Keep it from rusting and corroding.
Brian Terry: Correct. And you grow them –
Ramsey Russell: Like a lobster trap?
Brian Terry: Exactly like a lobster trap. Like a crab pot, things like that. We use that kind of a little heavier grade of a steel. And then you put certain amounts in and as they grow different stages, you grow them in bags, then to these cages.
Ramsey Russell: The shells don’t grow, do they?
Brian Terry: Oh, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: The shell and the thing inside it grow.
Brian Terry: They got to do it together. So it’s in unison. So a clam is much different.
Ramsey Russell: I guess you got to leave a little room inside that cage for the shells to grow.
Brian Terry: And that’s what takes so much.
Ramsey Russell: Would you fill it up halfway? Because you figure that shell is going to double by the time you harvest it?
Brian Terry: It’s so hands on, so you fill them up about a third, so an oyster grows so quick when they’re young, a clam does as well. As you’re growing and harvesting and handling methods change from each stage of life. And so nowadays you can take an oyster and from the time that it is made until the time from conception to consumption, you can do in about a year.
Ramsey Russell: One year.
Brian Terry: In about a year. A clam takes about 2.5 to 3 years.
Ramsey Russell: When you were doing those wild oysters, how old might some of them oysters be?
Brian Terry: On average, 3 years old.
Ramsey Russell: Do all oysters grow the same size? I’ve noticed that different parts, like from Washington State, up around the great Lakes, over to here, Down South, different, the shell itself looks different, the oyster itself looks different or different size. Some of these oysters you get, like, I don’t know, but I’ve been to one of my favorite restaurants around Washington DC, when I was working up here one time, I’d get the oyster sampler and it’d be a dozen oysters from 4 or 5 different locations. And you might go in months later and it’d be 4 or 5 different locations, but it’s like the shells were different, the oyster shape and size was different.
Brian Terry: So that’s the area that they’re growing in and the breed of oyster. Like they have a Komodo oyster, that’s a really small, petite oyster. So Taylor shellfish is one of the largest aquaculture companies in the world, very good people, great company. And they have a lot of oyster bars in the western part of the country in California, Washington and that area, Oregon. And they do and they grow oysters from Mexico to Canada and it all depends on the environment that that oyster is in. An oyster, and it’s a different breed. So we have virginicas on the East coast, they have a gigas oyster on the West Coast. So they grow differently. It’s different sizes, just means basically how it was grown, number one, number two, when you harvest. So if you want a 2inch oyster, when it gets to that point, you take it out, you harvest it. If you want a 3inch oyster, you grow it for another, however, many more months to get your 3 inch oyster. And as far as the cup goes and how, like last night, you saw how deep those cups were that held all the juice. So what happens when an oyster grows? So in the wild, it’s called a snipey oyster and they grow and it’s kind of like an elongated, flat style. So now when we grow them in aquaculture setting, we do what’s called tumbling the oyster. So we basically break that fresh bill off and stop the oyster from going straight and we make it grow, so the shell kind of has basically has a bottom to it.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, hold that juice, hold that stuff, make a little cup, the juice is as good as the oyster. The oyster liquor is as good as the oyster itself.
Brian Terry: Yeah, if it’s grown in the right area, you are 100% correct.
Ramsey Russell: Worst oysters I ever had, have no idea where they came from. I just went to Kroger one day, felt like I walked by, oh, I need some oysters. I’m going to say in that little pint, there may have been 5 or 6, they were as big as a cow tongue and they were tough and I’m like, no, this ain’t no good.
Brian Terry: So that’s what’s called a gigas, a Western oyster, a West coast oyster. I mean, as far as a pint, I’ve seen people literally shuck one oyster per pint.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I did not like it at all. I can see where if you dropped it in a blender to put it into something, but not to eat that thing.
Brian Terry: But even still then, that flavor is just so poignant, you can’t find a wine to pair with that one.
Ramsey Russell: No. You might need a shot of tequila with that one, I’m going to say.
Brian Terry: Or penicillin.
Ramsey Russell: How long have you – One year, it takes, how many bushes of oysters are you all shucking off of this farm now?
Brian Terry: So our family roughly right around now and approximately somewhere around 10 million. About 10 million single oysters a year is what our sales are.
Ramsey Russell: That’s tremendous, Brian. That’s a lot. What strikes me and I knew any kind of fish and shrimp and lobster and all of it is very hands on labor intensive, but oysters is real, through a lot of different stages.
Brian Terry: It’s real and it’s very involved. I mean, my uncle is 75 years old and still is out in the bay every day.
Ramsey Russell: Does your family crab also?
Brian Terry: No, sir.
Ramsey Russell: That’s just a part of the water life, because last night you showed it with some good crabs too, some blue crabs, that’s a big thing up here.
Brian Terry: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: And somebody asked the other day, Dirk was asking, when you go to grocery store and you buy those containers of just perfectly shelled crab meat, which is expensive, how do they process them? I’m going to tell you what I struggle, I’m like a raccoon, I ate a lot of crunchy parts, I ain’t got the patience to properly do a little blue crab. But how do you process those?
Brian Terry: By hand.
Ramsey Russell: By hand? 100% by hand?
Brian Terry: By hand. Yes, sir. So just like we ate them last night, that’s done in a picking house, they steam them and dump them on table and people sit there and pick them by hand.
Ramsey Russell: You said something about last night, how quick some of those people can do that.
Brian Terry: It’s impressive.
Ramsey Russell: How quick can an experienced person –
Brian Terry: I couldn’t narrow it down to time, but probably somewhere around maybe a crab in a couple of minutes.
Ramsey Russell: A couple of minutes?
Brian Terry: An entire crab. Picking it from your lump to your back fend to your claw meat and separate it.
Ramsey Russell: That’s impressive, isn’t it?
Brian Terry: It’s pretty cool to watch.
Ramsey Russell: You started a wader company and you didn’t start it because you’re from a duck hunting perspective, but you’re a duck hunter. We’re going to talk about that.
Brian Terry: Sure.
Ramsey Russell: But talk about how high and dry came to be, because I think we’ve talked a lot about the background of your oystering history and oysters and all that good stuff, but that beget a new pursuit. That’s why you’re here at the festival.
Brian Terry: That’s exactly why I’m here.
Ramsey Russell: What was going on?
Brian Terry: I retired from corporate America back in 2010 and moved back home and our family was growing big time. And one of the things that I respect the most about our family is we’re very stubborn, if you will and there’s a lot of great traits there. And when I graduated from college –
Ramsey Russell: Work will do that to you.
Brian Terry: Work does that to you and humble beings, my family is the best on the planet and we come from very humble beings and work hard and it’s just one of those things, we’re good to others and we do what we can and help your fellow neighbor. And when I graduated from college, I moved back home and wasn’t really sure what I was going to do and my lovely uncle and my father, they put my tush to work, it was working ungodly hours and they paid me a whopping $500 a week. And that was their way of telling me to get the hell out of here. So just like both my father and my uncle and my grandfather and my great uncle, the generations all the way down, they forced us coming along next generations to leave the eastern shore of Virginia and experience the world and bring something back. The company is always going to be there as their motto. But if you can’t bring something back to add value to carry this into another generation, then you’re not doing us any justice.
Ramsey Russell: Holy shit, man. That’s strong.
Brian Terry: It’s very strong.
Ramsey Russell: I mean, that is strong.
Brian Terry: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Go off and do something.
Brian Terry: That’s it.
Ramsey Russell: And when you come back into the family fold, bring something that’s going to help us go into the 5th generation.
Brian Terry: If not, carry your ass. And they’re very dedicated about it. I mean, my cousin was a practicing attorney in New York City.
Ramsey Russell: Did your great great granddaddy start that tradition?
Brian Terry: I couldn’t tell you who did that. All I know is the previous generation did that to me and to my cousin and she had her own career and now she’s back home and running the company.
Ramsey Russell: That’s tough love.
Brian Terry: It’s real, that’s what it is.
Ramsey Russell: What value did you bring back?
Brian Terry: I still haven’t figured that out yet. I guess, high and dry. I left and I was a regional sales manager for a manufacturer out of Putnam, Connecticut in the fire and rescue industry, Kochek Incorporated and I did that for a little over a decade and just figured out sales, marketing, grew up, became a man and learned the hard way, beating the streets and figuring out how to diversely handle every situation that you can experience in business and made some of the greatest connections and got to know a lot of people and brought a lot of that home and moved back home. And at that time we had a really large labor force, we were in gear every day, we worked 7 days a week, 365 days out of the year. We try to take a Christmas off or a Thanksgiving here and there, but at the end of the day somebody in that organization is working every single day of the year.
Ramsey Russell: People, plural, lots of people to do all these oystering, there’s a lot of people spending all day, every day that from about the waist down are leaned up against the gunnels of a boat.
Brian Terry: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: Reaching over.
Brian Terry: Reaching over or in the water. So you’re in waders depending on the time of the year. So even in the summertime when it’s 95 ° out, you’re in waders, due to the fact of greenhead horseflies and mosquitoes and stuff that will eat, they’ll suck the blood out of you.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, they don’t bite, they suck.
Brian Terry: They hurt, they make a grown man cry.
Ramsey Russell: Good lord, there’s a bazillion kinds of waders available. I mean, just go get some waders at the store, why do you have to make them own?
Brian Terry: Well, we did that and we used to do that and what happened was, basically, I guess it goes back to being a stubborn person not to name names or anything, I discussed this with a very large wader manufacturer at the time and we were buying anywhere from about a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year in gear.
Ramsey Russell: Jeez, in waders.
Brian Terry: In waders.
Ramsey Russell: A quarter million dollar a year in waders?
Brian Terry: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: To keep your staff dry.
Brian Terry: Exactly. And that wasn’t necessary. It’s because there wasn’t a product on the market that could withstand the rigors that we put our gear through.
Ramsey Russell: How long would you get out of pair of them waiters?
Brian Terry: 3 weeks.
Ramsey Russell: That’s it. And throw them away and buy another pair?
Brian Terry: Depending on, sometimes we could fix them, sometimes we couldn’t, sometimes I wouldn’t get a day out of them.
Ramsey Russell: I bet whoever was in charge of patching that kind of inventory in waders is a damn good patcher.
Brian Terry: You’re looking at him and yes, I am.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a full time job.
Brian Terry: It was a lot of late evenings. So, I reached out to the factory, the guys, one of the top guys that owned the company and I asked him, I was like, listen, this has got to stop, let me help you, let me teach you how to design a commercial grade product that can withstand more than just – and not for trying to take anything away from a duck hunter, a fly fisherman, a surf fisherman or somebody.
Ramsey Russell: Oystering is a whole lot different than any of those pursuits.
Brian Terry: It’s a night and day difference. And the shortest duck season out there is, what, 50 days in the country. So, yes, in your duck hunting and in your waders for 50 days straight every single day, going through a lot of the treacherous bottoms and stuff that we do, but 50 days out of 365 is just a scratch in the bucket. So my initial request was just to assist in making a commercial grade product, a working wader to benefit our company and fellow aquaculture people here in our region.
Ramsey Russell: What were some of the fundamental changes as compared to a fishing wader, a duck hunting wader, something recreational, light recreational, like, I guess what I do. But what’s the difference in that versus a working wader? Where were they failing? Where was a recreational wader failing in an arduous workforce?
Brian Terry: Well, let me turn that around on you. Where do most waiters fail?
Ramsey Russell: Seams.
Brian Terry: Thank you. There’s two things, your seams and then the comfort. So when you’re walking upwards of 2 to 3 miles a day and those people that duck hunt public land, they know what it’s like to walk and that was the biggest thing for us. We did not reinvent the wheel, we just made that son of bitch better.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Well, you did something with the knees, too. I was sitting there looking at you all’s booth the other day and they come in camo and a lot of different stuff because duck hunter is using them now, too. But your knees are engineered for that leaning up on reaching over, pulling them traps, pulling them oysters, hauling them things.
Brian Terry: And it’s not only that, that’s 100% correct.
Ramsey Russell: You all wearing out on the knees?
Integration with Wader Fabric: Detailing the Process of Sewing the Neoprene Padding into a Pouch within the Wader Fabric.
So we found a way to use a blend of Kevlar in our knee protection area. And on the back of that, we have a 3.5 millimeter neoprene padding.
Brian Terry: 100%. So you’re on your knees a lot, too. When you’re clamming and you’re oystering, you’re doing anything in aquaculture, you’re on your knees a lot. So the biggest part that’s a lot of stress, especially on a wader, that is a pant, it’s an upper and a shoe all in one, the stress that you have on that fabric and the stress that you have getting on your knees, getting up, standing up, standing down, being in a boat, getting in and out of a boat, it’s a lot of stress. So the knee area for us is the only fabric on the market that I could think of that was badass and tough was Kevlar. So we found a way to use a blend of Kevlar in our knee protection area. And on the back of that, we have a 3.5 millimeter neoprene padding, if you will, we call it a floating knee pad, because we take that padding and we sew it into the same fabric that we make our waders out of and make a little pouch and then we take that pouch and then we stitch it to the actual Kevlar so it’s not stitched to the wader. And then that way, now you have something that is not going to damage your product, it’s not going to have any area to fail, any seam that can be pulled apart or fail, leak and then also add protection. So when you’re breaking ice, when you’re getting it out of a boat, when you’re on your knees doing anything, you don’t have to worry about anything puncturing your wader. You have padding and you have protection.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about how you worked, how your family works in the oystering business. When did you find time to duck hunt? Because when the tide moves at 4 or 5, you’re out there oystering not duck hunting.
Brian Terry: Don’t you think, I didn’t take my gun with me?
Ramsey Russell: You had time to kind of kill two birds with one stone? Is that your origin? I want to hear a little bit about how you got into duck hunting.
Brian Terry: Well, actually, my uncle’s an avid duck hunter and my friends, so my business partner, Ian McNair, he is an avid duck hunter.
Ramsey Russell: And he and his dad are very accomplished Chincoteague style decoy carvers.
Brian Terry: Unbelievable wooden duck decoys. I’ve been spoiled my whole duck hunting career to have a hell of a spread hunt over. Most people talk about all other types of decoys and every other manufacturer out there, I’ve got a business partner that makes ours.
Ramsey Russell: How long have you known Ian?
Brian Terry: I’ve known him since probably we were maybe in middle school.
Ramsey Russell: Okay. Childhood friends.
Brian Terry: Childhood friends.
Ramsey Russell: How far back did he start decoy carving?
Brian Terry: Probably when he was 2. I got pictures of him with, I can’t remember that night.
Ramsey Russell: So when you all went through that age and grew up duck hunting together, you all didn’t hunt over plastic?
Brian Terry: No, sir.
Ramsey Russell: Hunted over his decoy or dad’s decoy? You’re kidding.
Brian Terry: We were in high school and our first spread was actually a cork decoy that he made. He carved the cork out and put his head and tail on it, that was our spread.
Ramsey Russell: One duck?
Brian Terry: No, we had a dozen, roughly around a dozen, that all depend on how quick he could carve them and when we did it and how far we had to walk.
Ramsey Russell: Were they black ducks?
Brian Terry: Yes, sir and mallards.
Ramsey Russell: And mallards. Do you all get a lot of mallards around that area?
Brian Terry: We do.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Brian Terry: Just as you know, the East coast flyway is not as strong as it used to be as it was back in the day.
Ramsey Russell: No, but newsflash. I talked to a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, Atlantic Flyway Council yesterday, that said, based on numbers, next season, the Atlantic Flyway mallard limit is going back to 4, not 2.
Brian Terry: Nice.
Ramsey Russell: Fresh off the press news.
Brian Terry: I look forward to that day.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve known that less than 24 hours.
Brian Terry: It’s tough. It’s a lot of work to get set up good duck hunting. And when you can only shoot one or two, like a goose, you can only kill one goose you know as well as I know, setting up a goose spread, that’s –
Ramsey Russell: That’s a lot of work for one trigger pull.
Brian Terry: That’s a lot of work for one bird. So, I mean, unfortunately, some people that I know have a hard time counting and you see that every now and again. But the population, in my opinion, is there, the limits are, they’re here and there. And one of the biggest rifts that I have with any type of limit from any type of bird hunting I do, is baiting, shooting over certain things, if you have a limit in place, what’s it matter how you kill it?
Ramsey Russell: I’ve often wondered about some of those laws, if the limit is 6, enforce the limit of 6. It’s like gun control. Here’s an idea instead of regulating guns make a law against murder and enforce it. That’s it.
Brian Terry: Amen.
Ramsey Russell: It’s as simple as that.
Brian Terry: So why should you only be able to shoot 3 times at a bird and kill 5 of them? Who gives a shit? Give you 5 shells, shoot 5 of them.
Ramsey Russell: I don’t know.
Brian Terry: It makes no sense to me.
Ramsey Russell: I don’t know. Speaking of limits, I guess doing the aquaculture, there is no limit. But I imagine back when you all were harvesting wild oysters, there may have been like a quota or limit.
Brian Terry: So it’s not so much as far as quota goes, it’s the time that you can harvest and the time of the year, the time of the day. And there are regulations in place now for – they’re called warm water harvest regulations. And depending on how you harvest a clam and or an oyster, the time of the day, how fast you get to the dock to get them tempered so you limit the bacteria growth inside the animal is definitely regulated and regulated very hard.
Ramsey Russell: My favorite way to eat oysters is raw, most favorite way. A horseradish, I make a little horseradish and ketchup sauce, I like it spicy on the horseradish side, a little Worcestershire sauce, but my favorite way to eat them raw is really just lemon or salt, lemon or just none of the above. My favorite oysters I’ve ever eaten have come from your neck of the woods. Like you were saying, Hog Bay doesn’t have a freshwater inlet and they’re particularly briny, the brinier the oyster, the better.
Brian Terry: It is and that’s what it is. And one of the biggest things that I try to tell everybody when they’re eating our oysters is the fact that chew it, don’t just enjoy that blast of salt that goes down your throat.
Ramsey Russell: Chew it.
Brian Terry: You chew that oyster 3 or 4 times and you get a different flavor profile as you’re chewing and as you’re eating it, and it ends up just being better and better and better.
Ramsey Russell: I bet if I ask you how you eat oysters, you can run down like Bubba Gump.
Brian Terry: Pretty much.
Ramsey Russell: I bet you could name a million different ways to eat oysters.
Brian Terry: Pretty much.
Ramsey Russell: What’s your favorite way?
Brian Terry: Just like we did last night.
Ramsey Russell: Steam?
Brian Terry: No, sir, over a grill.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, those were grilled?
Brian Terry: No, the ones you ate, you wouldn’t turn around long enough.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, you all had some behind me.
Brian Terry: Yes, sir, I did.
Ramsey Russell: I ate a few oysters, I got busy, I was hungry.
Brian Terry: Yeah, I saw that. I tried to get your attention and brought you one or two.
Ramsey Russell: So you like to grill them?
Brian Terry: Yes, sir on an open flame. And so what it does, you grill them cup side down, so what it does is it essentially cooks the oyster a little bit in the lacquer, so you got your flavor and I don’t like cooking them too much, I just want a little heat.
Ramsey Russell: Just to the shell pops open.
Brian Terry: Just to the shell pops open. So you still got that nice warm water in there and just a lightly cooked oyster and slurp that bad boy down.
Ramsey Russell: Amen.
Brian Terry: It’s the best.
Ramsey Russell: I sure do appreciate. I know you got to get busy and get back out there to get out there to the show, you all are kicking up and it’s going to be cool, but I see some sunshine through the winter, so I know it’s going to be a huge crowd today, there’s no doubt about it. How long have you been coming to the Eastern Waterfowl Festival?
Brian Terry: I actually came with probably about close to a decade because I used to come up with Ian when he was doing nothing but carving and used to come up and I would shuck oysters for him while he was trying to sell his decoys. And we’ve been coming for high and dry for the past 4 years and absolutely love this event, love the people, love the relationships we’ve created and it’s one of those things we look forward to every fall.
Ramsey Russell: If there’s any doubt in my mind, I was maybe coming next year, maybe not coming, last night it sealed the deal, buddy. I’m coming next year.
Brian Terry: We’ll be a little more prepared next year and we can definitely make that happen.
Ramsey Russell: No, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been telling Ian, been talking to Ian and his dad forever, next year is going to be the year I need to kill a duck in Virginia, West Virginia and Oregon and I’m going to scratch Virginia off a list next time I see you.
Brian Terry: That looks like a plan, I’ll hold you to it.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Brian. Folks, you all been listening to my buddy Brian Terry, H.M Terry Company, Oysters in Virginia and also high and dry waders. Isn’t that interesting story about how the mother of invention is necessity. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.
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