Laurens County, South Carolina – The Laurens County Chamber of Commerce welcomed a record number of guests to its 15th Annual Oyster Roast last Thursday evening, raising needed funds for its work in business support and development across the county.
It’s become the chamber’s largest fundraiser and this year’s record crowd of more than 750 guests consumed plenty of oysters and shrimp. In doing so the event also benefited the South Carolina Lowcountry because the oyster shells were returned to the area’s marsh.
“We learned they had 2,800 pounds of oysters to recycle, which was really exciting,” said Keep Laurens County Beautiful director Courtney Stonell. “I knew ReWa in Greenville had a drop-off location for shells but I didn’t know that much about it, and we had no idea our seafood caterer had been doing this all these years.”
“We recycle all our shells from catering events,” said Craig Reaves of CJ Seafood and Sea Eagle Market in Beaufort. “The Chamber Oyster Roast there is the farthest we go to cater on an annual basis and it was the largest this year. We had 70 bushels of oysters this year so we were able to bring back about 2,800 pounds of shells.”
The effort to keep the oyster shells separate and return them to the marsh is not only great for the ocean environment, Reaves said, but it’s also required by state law for oyster growers, such as CJ Seafood.
“We lease our section of marsh from the State of South Carolina so we are required to replace a certain amount. We recycle all the shells we can recover and the benefit is two-fold,” Reaves said. “We are building oyster reefs so it’s like creating a new habitat. In addition the shell has calcium and nutrients for the ocean when it breaks down into the water. But primarily, we are literally building new oyster reefs.”
What that means for oysters as a food source is that it’s sustainable. It takes a lot of hard work, but harvesting food from the ocean is all Reaves has known.
“I started this in the mid-’90s so I’ve done this almost 30 years,” Reaves said. “My father was a shrimper so now we have our own shrimp boat too. We brought 325 pounds of shrimp up for them to cook for the Oyster Roast last week and we also brought some for Happy Cow to sell. They sell our shrimp and we bring back their milk and cheese to sell in our market, so we’re really interconnected with the Upstate.”
That business interconnectedness is what the Laurens County Chamber of Commerce has been supporting for years, said Chamber President Amanda Munyan, and her staff are continuously seeking and sharing ideas with other chambers across the state to enhance their efforts.
While the annual oyster roast is hugely popular for its Lowcountry food and lots of fun, Munyan said, it’s also very important to the success of the Chamber.
“It allows us to support our many areas of work, and we enjoy offering everyone an opportunity to network,” Munyan said. “We get to highlight many local businesses and we celebrate the amazing community we have in Laurens County. But we couldn’t do it without the volunteers who make this event so successful.”
As for the Keep Laurens County Beautiful Affiliate – one of the chamber’s programs – Stonell said she was excited to learn about the local chamber’s small part in giving back to the marsh.
“In all the education classes with children I’m always telling them our waterways are connected, and what goes into the rivers can negatively impact our lakes and even the ocean, even though it’s three or four hours away,” Stonell said. “This gives me another way to teach them just how interconnected we are.”
Stonell said anyone wishing to recycle shells in the Upstate can do so at the “Shuck ‘Em In” sign, located at the entrance to ReWa at 660 Mauldin Road, Greenville.
According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, oyster beds play a critical role in coastal habitats, the state’s general coastline ecology and erosion prevention. SCDNR works through the South Carolina Oyster Recycling and Enhancement (SCORE) program to help manage and rebuild the state’s oyster reefs. For more information or to volunteer go to score.dnr.sc.gov.
Story originally published on Page 1 in the Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023 issue of The Laurens County Advertiser.