Oyster Lovers, Rejoice! Summer Is No Longer Your Off-Season

updated 08/31/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/31/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The oyster doesn't lead a very exciting life. It sits in its briny world, pumping seawater through its tiny self, growing plump and lovely until the day it is taken out to a fancy restaurant, where it meets an appetizing end.

During certain months, however (according to traditionalists, the months that don't contain the letter "r"), gourmets steer clear of the meaty mollusk. With the warming waters of summer, the oyster's hormones begin to rage, and it asks itself The Big Question: "This year, do I want to be a boy oyster or a girl oyster?" Depending on the answer, the oyster produces either sperm or ova, which meet in the oceanic equivalent of a singles bar (or oyster bar, if you will), go to oyster bed and produce the next generation.

But when adult oysters, uncloistered, boisterously roister, there's one big problem: Because of the sexual changes, they taste terrible. The solution to midsummer mollusk madness has eluded mankind all these centuries. Now, at Westcott Bay Sea Farms oyster hatchery near Roche Harbor, Wash., owners Bill and Dorée Webb (below) have beat this bad bivalve business. With guidance from marine biologist Sandy Downing, the Webbs soak recently fertilized eggs in an organic compound that, in effect, neuters the future oysters.

The celibate oysters are shipped to four Seattle restaurants at a rate of 1,000 dozen a month. At $5 a dozen wholesale, the Webbs could become oyster Rockefellers.

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