March 27, 2014
MATHEWS — Tucked away on the watery fringe of Milford Haven on Gwynn's Island sits a modest white warehouse that has become a powerhouse in the oyster industry, helping fuel a rebirth of one of the Chesapeake Bay's iconic symbols.
Owned by Urbanna resident Rufus Ruark Jr. and under the direction of Mike Congrove, Oyster Seed Holdings produces more than a billion eye larvae oysters — which are just about to set — and more than 60 million seed oysters annually.
The company's oysters are nurtured in its warehouse, which draws water from Milford Haven and where the conditions are tightly controlled. The company's oysters are sold all along the East Coast, from South Carolina to Rhode Island.
"This isn't just a Virginia thing that's going on," Congrove said. "It's an East Coast thing that's going on."
The company's growth curve is steady since launching over the winter of 2008-09. Big processors had problems securing oyster product and Oyster Seed Holdings was started as a way to fill a void in the production cycle.
Since then, Oyster Seed Holdings is showing no signs of slowing down its production, which has more than doubled in five years Cosgrove said.
"We expect it to go up again this year as well," Cosgrove said. "Maybe as soon as next year we'll do a significant expansion."
Congrove said the company has 60 to 80 customers, with the largest producing on the order of six to seven million oysters a year. The company's smallest customers produce about 500,000 oysters a year, Congrove said.