How (and Why) to Read an Oyster Tag

One of many fascinating oyster-facts I learned on a visit to Bon Secour Fisheries is that every oyster you purchase from a restaurant or market is associated with a tag. If you know how to read an oyster tag, you know who packed and shipped it, its date of harvest and even the oyster harvest location. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires producers to include tags with this information for all oysters. Restaurants and other outlets are required to keep the tags on file for 90 days, allowing the oysters to be tracked back to their supplier and source waters if needed.

If you want to know how fresh your oysters are, or you’re curious about where your gulf oysters were dredged, or just want to confirm that the raw bar is really serving local oysters, ask to see the label.

How to Read an Oyster Tag

how to read an oyster tag, oyster harvest location
Oyster tag. (Photo courtesy of Alan C. Gaskin)

I’ve added blue numbers to the oyster tag photo above to indicate four key pieces of information.

#1 and #2 indicate processors and suppliers that are certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and included on the Interstate Certified Shellfish Shippers List. “AL-271-SP” (#1) is the certification number for Crimson Bay Seafood.  The “SP” at the end of the number shows that Crimson Bay Seafood is a “Shucker-Packer,” certified to shuck and pack oysters (and other shellfish).

The original shipper’s certification number “LA 2323 SS” (#2), indicates that the oysters were originally shipped from P.S. Fisheries in Empire, Louisiana. The “SS” at the end of their number indicates that P.S. Fisheries is a “Shellstock Shipper,” certified to grow, harvest, buy, or repack and sell shellfish.

#3 is the harvest date for the oysters and what most people look for on the tags. These were dredged, raked, tonged, or removed from their baskets for sale on 10-21-15. Avoid oysters harvested more than 14 days ago. Most people want their oysters to be out of the water no more than five or six days. The fresher they are the better.

#4 is “Harvest Location,” my favorite bit of information about the oysters. This is the key to finding where your oysters spent their watery youth and gathered all of their briny, creamy goodness. While the oysters in the photo above were packaged in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, “Harvest Location: 13LA” indicates they were harvested in Louisiana Area 13 (which includes Grand Isle).

Oyster Harvest Location Maps

Following are the maps for oyster-producing states. Note that each state has its own approach for mapping and describing harvest areas. Some are easy to read and clearly understood. Others are as muddy as a Low Country oyster bed.

Gulf Coast

East Coast

West Coast

More Map Links Coming Soon:

  • California
  • New Hampshire
  • Virginia
how to read an oyster tag
Oyster label from Webb’s Seafood Inc. (Photo courtesy of Ed Muller)

More About Oyster Tagging and Tracking

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