Shellfish lovers - and some of the country's top chefs - are making the most of the annual Bluff oyster season.

Wednesday marked the start of the season - which is expected to end around August, depending on when the oyster catching quota is met.

The southern delicacy is big business due both to their taste and limited season.

Just four days into the 2017 season, deals for a dozen Bluff oysters vary in price between $19.95 and $90 as foodies make the most of the annual taste sensation.


Euro Restaurant & Bar executive chef Gareth Stewart tasted the very first oysters of the season before the sun rose on Wednesday.

He flew down to Bluff to bring back the season's first haul.

He said the oysters tasted just like normal Bluff oysters except "you're a bit more smug because you're the first".

"When they're just out of the sea they're so salty and a little bit sweet. They just taste better knowing you're out on the sea... All the big ones stay on the boat."

The downtown Auckland restaurant are doing a deal called "Euro calls your Bluff" where you can enjoy a dozen Bluff oysters for $19.95 from 12pm to 3pm during the month of March.

Stewart believed people go berserk over the shellfish because they're only available for a few months a year.

He said some restaurants charged significantly more for the oysters due to the grade they buy and increasing wholesale costs. He said a dozen premium grade oysters cost around $20 for the restaurant to purchase.

One of the perks of going out on the dredging boat - #chefgarethstewart gets to try the first ones as they are brought up😊 #AirNewZealand #sooogood #comingsoontoaplateatEuro #princeswharfoysterfest

Posted by Euro Bar & Restaurant on Tuesday, 28 February 2017

"Prices go up every year. To get a premium product you have to pay the price for it. It's the same for all the seafood because it's depleted, therefore it becomes pricier."

Soul Bar and Bistro executive chef Gavin Doyle ordered over 18,000 oysters for 500 people to gorge themselves on over Friday and Saturday. The $175 tickets to Soul's "all you can eat" lunch sold out within an hour.

Doyle said they served the oysters in a few different ways - natural, with a range of condiments including Peruvian "tigers milk" a lime, sesame seed oil and fish sauce marinade, deep fried and kilpatrick.

Despite all the fancy recipes Doyle maintained he preferred his oysters with just a squeeze of lemon juice.

"I just like the brininess. They're a lovely firm oyster with a lovely salty flavour. The Pacific one is a bit softer."

Bluff oysters are one of the star attractions at the month-long Princess Wharf Oyster Festival - at The Culpeper, Shed 22 - will deliver a month of daily oyster deals, events and a special oyster menu over March.

The oysters, which grow in the Foveaux Strait, were first harvested from Stewart Island in the 1860s.

A quota system was first introduced in 1963. The current quota sits at 10 million for 11 licensed boats. Once the quota is reached fishing stops for the season.

Barnes Wild Bluff Oysters manager Graeme Wright said 70 people were lined up outside his shop in Bluff on March 1 awaiting the first boatload of oysters. He sells a dozen for $24.
He thought the varying prices around Auckland reflected the drive of the market.

"It's supply and demand. It is the start of the season and supply has been limited due to the weather. It's the nature of the beast."

Bluff oyster prices in Auckland
Euro - $19.95/dozen
Soul Bar - $90/dozen $7.50/each
Mt Eden Village Fish Shop - $36/dozen $3/each
Ostro - $25/dozen when a restaurant table is booked
Jervois Steak House - $19.99/dozen for lunch $60/dozen for dinner
The Culpepper - $25 for a beer and ½ dozen oysters
The Oyster Inn (Waiheke) - $75/dozen
Cibo - $55/dozen