Oysters from Kualoa Ranch

Oysters harvested at Kualoa Ranch

Get your oyster shuckers ready. For the first time in almost 30 years, locally grown oysters are for sale in Hawaii. Recently, Kualoa Ranch harvested 42 dozen oysters from its fishpond and, within three hours, sold them all.

Growing oysters for consumption has been a four-year-long project for Kualoa Ranch. A lot of that time was spent waiting for the Department of Health to build its shellfish certification lab and train staff on standards—basically, it had to be certified itself before it could certify the shellfish.

The standards for raising shellfish are particularly stringent because oysters are “one of the few things you eat raw and alive,” says Kuuipo McCarty, who runs the oyster operations at Kualoa Ranch. Which makes oysters an excellent candidate for local production—of all the food I’d want as straight from the source as possible, oysters top my list. No one wants to eat a dead (or even just a little old) oyster raw.

Also, it just makes sense. Hawaii already supplies many West Coast oyster farms with oyster babies (technical term: seed). Years ago, because of ocean acidification in the West Coast, some oyster hatcheries moved to the Big Island to grow baby oysters and then ship them to the Mainland, where they come to market weight. (Sound familiar? It’s somewhat like Hawaii’s cattle production—raised here, fattened there.)

The fishpond at Kualoa Ranch currently holds about 27,000 oysters in various stages of growth. For this year, Kualoa hopes to harvest about 1,000 a week.

But while cattle in Mainland feedlots fatten faster than grass-fed beef raised here, oysters actually grow more quickly in Hawaii, thanks to the temperate weather. Kualoa Ranch’s oysters come to market size in about seven months, whereas on the Mainland, it can take 18 months to three years. Right now, Kualoa Ranch is using an oyster developed for West Coast waters, but researchers at UH Hilo hope to develop a strain even better suited to Hawaii, and perhaps even try out the beloved Kumamoto oyster, a small oyster favored for its creamy and mild taste.

But for now, the medium-sized Pacific oysters Kualoa Ranch are just fine—clean-tasting thanks to time spent in a saltwater tank to purge, firm and briny with a slight minerally finish. At the moment, the oysters are only available at the ranch store for $15 a dozen.

Kualoa Ranch, kualoa.com, 237-7321