The waters of Coastal North Carolina are plentiful with oysters. These natural delicacies were once a core food source for Native Americans and played a major role in colonial time, contributing to the local community. In fact in the 1800s, carolinians traded bushels of oysters for supplies and they were a common trade in Wilmington during that time.
After the end of the Civil War the popularity of oysters grew even more and were typically sold for cash in local markets and canneries, know as “oyster houses” were setup to supply the northeastern markets with North Carolina sea oysters.
Oysters grown in Wilmington were either harvested in the shallow waters of the local sounds and estuaries with tongs or harvested in deep water with powered dredges which dug them up from the sea floor. In most cases the dredging of the deep sea oysters was conducted by out-of-town companies and individuals from up and down the eastern seaboard.
These two different methods of oyster procurement actually created division amongst the locals and out-of-town oyster companies, which eventually led to an armed conflict and what is now known as the Oyster War of 1891.
Oysters in Wilmington today
The Wilmington and Cape Fear coastline has the perfect natural environment for farming and raising oysters. It’s the sounds, marshlands, and estuarine rivers that provide a great habitat for both oyster farms and wild oyster reefs.
Today oysters are a large part of local commercial and recreational fishery with an estimated $62 million worth of North Carolina oysters sold each year. The typical oyster season is generally October to March, but farmed oysters can be harvested and purchased year around.
The fast growing oyster scene
The local Wilmington oyster scene is exploding, in fact there are now more farms and procures of sea oysters in the area than there has been since the 1800s. Whether you are looking for oysters for your backyard BBQ or oyster roast or interested in sitting a local oyster bar, there is something for all oyster lovers in in Wilmington. And, there are number of different types and tastes depending on what your taste buds are telling you.
“North Carolina is poised to be the Napa Valley of Oysters”
— Rowan Jacobsen, author of A Geography of Oysters
See this amazing guide to North Carolina Oysters to learn more about the different types of sea oysters that are raised in farmed in the area.
The best places to get oysters in Wilmington
With all that said, where do you find oysters locally? We’ve put together a list of the top farms and distributors of Wilmington oysters to point you in the right direction. Happy shucking!
The local favorite is the Seaview Crab Company, a seafood market that was founded by three good friends based on their experience catching and selling live blue crabs. With three stores to choose from in the Wilmington, the Seaview Crab Company is one of the largest retail seafood suppliers in Wilmington. All of the seafood you will find here is sourced from from local fishermen. If you love seafood and especially fresh oysters, this is the place to go. In addition to the market itself, Seaview Crab Company offers a dine in/take out cafe featuring local seafood delicacies hot and ready to eat.
Carolina Mariculture Co. is a small, family owned oyster farm growing and selling oysters to individuals and restaurants in the Wilmington area. The oyster farms uses techniques to raise oysters from seeds, hatches them and brings them into market. Unlike wild oysters, Carolina Mariculture Co. carefully matures sea oysters in floating cages in Core Sound located off Cedar Island.
You won’t find bushels of oysters here, the farm specializes in growing single oysters as opposed to clusters or doubles making them beautiful and uniform in size and shape with a deep cup, perfect for serving on the half shell. Carolina Mariculture Co. provides North Carolina oysters year around.
The N Sea Oyster Company is local oyster farm in Hampstead close to Topsail Island. The farm grows oysters on a suspended longline and runs on a dry and tumble schedule that creates the highest quality and consistent sea oysters in Wilmington. The farm is known for their famous oysters, the Dukes of Topsail Sound and Topsail oysters. To get your hands of N Sea Oysters go to their website or visit local restaurants and seafood markets. N Sea Oyster Company is also in the process of building their own local oyster bar. Stay tuned!!!
Eat NC Oysters is a local oyster distributor that provides access to the freshest oysters and farms in the Wilmington area. Eat NC Oysters is your source to all the small sea oyster farms that don’t yet retail location or a way to sell directly to consumers.
Eat NC Oysters makes it easy to get your hands fresh local on oysters quickly and efficiently. Customers can place orders via phone or email and Eat NC Oysters will be delivered right to your door step.
Cape Fear Oyster Company is another great sea oyster farm located in Wilmington. Cape Fear Oyster Company grows and sells high quality oysters to local businesses primarily. If you are not a business, not to worry you can still get your hands on their oysters by purchasing them on their website or by giving them a call directly.
In addition to selling oysters, the oyster company provides and inside look at the oyster farming process with open-to-the-public farm tours and expeditions. These adventures will take you out on the sound by boat for a few hours to explore first hand how to raise sea oysters. Cape Fear Oyster Company provides patrons the ability to order oysters directly from their website.
Middle Sound Mariculture – Oyster Company farms sea oysters locally in Masonboro, Stump and Topsail Sound near Wilmington. Oysters are grown to be consistent and delicious and good looking, perfect for a backyard BBQ and found in a number of the local restaurants in town. Oysters from the farm can be purchased online or in person by visiting their retail location in Midtown.
Carolina Beach Oyster Company raises sea oysters in on their farm on Stump Sound which is behind Permuda Island, a part of North Carolina’s Estuarine Reserve. The farm uses traditional techniques to raise consistent good tasting oysters known as “CB Salts”, their signature sea oyster.
CB Salts can be found at a number of local restaurants in Caroline Beach and across Wilmington. You can purchase oysters online, by phone or by stopping by their retail location. Delivery is also available.
Intracoastal Seafood Market has some of the highest quality fresh oysters and seafood in Wilmington. Almost all their inventory is sourced from local Wilmington fisherman. The market is a great place to load up on the day’s catch and experience some of the local oyster farms, it’s also a one-stop shop for all your seafood accessory needs.