Food Justice in the Oyster Industry

May 14, 2021 Written by Adam Thomas

At the Delaware beaches, locally grown oysters are beginning to reappear on menus as premium products available for purchase. But as the Delaware oyster industry begins to re-emerge, Delaware Sea Grant (DESG) is looking to ensure that these aquatic delicacies are available to all Delawareans in equal measure.

With that in mind, DESG will kick off its 2021 Delaware Sea Grant Engage and Exchange Workshops from 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 19 with a webinar focused on “Regional Considerations within Food Justice in the Oyster Industry.”

The talk will feature Ed Hale, DESG marine advisory service specialist and assistant professor in the University of Delaware’s School of Marine Science and Policy, and Cristina Sandolo, an ocean food systems professional science master’s degree candidate at the University of New England.

Topics will include the current oyster aquaculture efforts underway in Delaware, as well as a description of the history of the oyster fishery in the region.

Further, Sandolo will present information related to her recent research on how food justice, which responds to the systemic inequities and racial discrimination in the food system, could be applied to enhance the equity of business ownership thereby enhancing industry potential.

Hale, who serves as one of Sandolo’s advisers, explained that oysters are typically not uniformly available to all races and peoples, especially in Delaware where they are mostly found in southern coastal communities and marketed as a high-end product found in the more expensive restaurant establishments.

“Since many of our shellfish farmers are still developing their business models, a lot of our shellfish sales are fairly localized,” said Hale. “It is a coastal product. Folks that are in inner-city Wilmington, they’re probably not going to have a chance [to get them] and potential urban customers are not aware of where to get this product or how to get this product.”

Making oysters available and accessible to underrepresented populations could be a boon for both the oyster growers and for those communities. Growers could add new customers, and people adding oysters to their diets will get a healthy, high-protein food that helps to clean the waters of their home state while it grows.

“I see this as a win for both groups,” said Hale. “I’m hopeful that participants walk away with some understanding of the current state of shellfish aquaculture in Delaware, what food access and availability looks like and potential methods and remedies to address food injustice.”

This workshop is free and open to the public.

To participate, visit

Future Delaware Sea Grant Engage and Exchange Workshops

The second DESG Engage and Exchange Workshop will take place on Wednesday, July 21 from 1-4 p.m. titled “Green Careers: Working for a Sustainable Future.”

That workshop will examine the importance of preparing today’s students to meet future environmental challenges and an ever-changing workforce. David Christopher, a marine education specialist with DESG’s marine advisory service, will explore green careers: jobs that support the economy and benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. Participants will learn about green careers from people in the industry, will hear about the opportunities and challenges for green careers in Delaware, and will explore the skills and competencies needed for students to take part in the future green workforce.

On Wednesday, July 28 from 1-4 p.m., the third DESG Engage and Exchange Workshop will focus on “Oil Spills in the Delaware Estuary: What happens next?”

This workshop will be led by Chris Petrone, director of the DESG Marine Advisory Service, and look at how every day, over one million gallons of crude oil moves through Delaware Bay and River. The estuary has suffered numerous spills over the past 50 years, harming or killing wildlife, poisoning the water, and wreaking havoc on commerce, tourism, and recreation. DESG has convened experts in oil spill response and impacts to help participants understand the dangers of moving this vital resource through the Delaware Estuary, and how to help in the event of future oil spills. While geared toward teachers, this workshop will benefit anyone interested in learning more about oil transport and the potential risks to humans and the environment.

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