Oyster is the common name for a number of different families of salt-water bivalve molluscs that live in marine or brackish habitats. In some species, the valves are highly calcified, and many are somewhat irregular in shape. Many, but not all oysters are in the superfamily Ostreoidea.
Some types of oysters are commonly consumed (cooked or raw), and in some locales are regarded as a delicacy. The word oyster comes from Old French oistre, and first appeared in English during the 14th century. The French derived from the Latin ostrea, the feminine form of ostreum, which is the latinisation of the Ancient Greek ὄστρεον (ostreon) 'oyster'.
Oysters have been cultured since at least the days of the Roman Empire. The Pacific oyster (Magallana gigas) is presently the most widely grown bivalve around the world. Two methods are commonly used, release and bagging. In both cases, oysters are cultivated onshore to the size of spat, when they can attach themselves to a substrate. They may be allowed to mature further to form "seed oysters". In either case, they are then placed in the water to mature. The release technique involves distributing the spat throughout existing oyster beds, allowing them to mature naturally to be collected like wild oysters. Bagging has the cultivator putting spat in racks or bags and keeping them above the bottom. Harvesting involves simply lifting the bags or rack to the surface and removing the mature oysters. The latter method prevents losses to some predators, but is more expensive.
Jonathan Swift is quoted as having said, "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster". Evidence of oyster consumption goes back into prehistory, evidenced by oyster middens found worldwide. Oysters were an important food source in all coastal areas where they could be found, and oyster fisheries were an important industry where they were plentiful. Overfishing and pressure from diseases and pollution have sharply reduced supplies, but they remain a popular treat celebrated in oyster festivals in many cities and towns.