When most people think of the 100 Mile Coast, they immediately think of fresh, local seafood, harvested by generations of the same fishing families. No other place embodies this idea like the Bluffton Oyster Company. And although the Bluffton Oyster Company calls itself a “typical southern oyster house,” its history and commitment to providing locally harvested seafood to locals and visitors alike make it something truly special.
The low-slung tabby building that houses the Bluffton Oyster Company sits on a pile of oyster shells, long discarded from previous shucking operations. The land is reclaimed, and the building was built in 1954. While numerous wooden docks and buildings once stood on the site, they are long since gone. The building is now owned by Beaufort County and shares land with a public boat ramp access to the May River. This makes the Bluffton Oyster Company a perfect stop to grab some fresh seafood after spending a day on the water.
Stepping inside the cool and dimly-lit interior of the Bluffton Oyster Company, you are immediately greeted by a case filled with tidy rows of simply presented, fresh fish. Over to the side of the case are tubs filled with ice and mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp, and of course, oysters. And while you cannot go wrong with anything you take home from the Bluffton Oyster Company, you’d be cheating yourself if you left without taking some oysters.
All oysters are harvested by hand; the Bluffton Oyster Company employs up to 15 oyster pickers daily, and up 12 oyster shuckers daily. Once harvested, the shell stock is unloaded on the docks and washed with fresh water before being loaded onto the shucking tables. The shuckers then proceed to open the oysters, by hand, and into stainless steel cans. Once the cans are full, they are passed through a window that leads into the measuring and packing room. The oysters are washed again, this time in skimmer, and then packed into containers of varying sizes. The containers are kept in a refrigerated holding area until they are ready to be delivered.
Most of the workers at the Bluffton Oyster Company are over the age of 65 and have been in the business all their lives. Each shucker’s oysters are kept separate to guarantee that each of them are paid correctly.
Crabbing is done year round, and are almost always available, except for soft shell crabs. The Bluffton Oyster Company harvests soft shell crabs during the months of March, April and May. The season can start anytime from mid-March to mid-April, and lasts from 2 to 8 weeks, depending on many variable factors. Whether you are an avid lover of this Lowcountry delicacy, or just satisfying your curiosity to see what the fuss is all about with these popular crustaceans, you owe it to yourself to visit The Bluffton Oyster Company during soft shell crab season. During this time, you can find soft shell crabs in various stages of molting in large molting tanks assuring that freshly molted, live crabs are available each day.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources determines specific opening and closing dates each year for shrimp season. Shrimp season typically runs from mid-June until mid-January. Oysters, clams, and mussels are in season from mid-September to mid-May.
The Bluffton Oyster Company is open Monday through Saturday from 9am until 5:30pm. Whatever seafood you’re craving, stop in to the Bluffton Oyster Company and grab something to take home and enjoy. Visiting this piece of South Carolina history is an experience that is both educational and delicious, and once you go, you’ll be hooked!