Kate Livie, a writer with magazine Edible Delmarva, describes this best in a recent article:
“Wild oysters are a native, naturally-occurring oyster species, Crassostrea Virginica, that are caught by watermen who employ a few methods to harvest them— mainly dredges (triangular rakes with nets dragged behind oystering boats) or tongs (scissor-like rakes used by hand or with a mechanized system to harvest oysters).
When farmed (cultivated), oysters are actually good for the environment, sustainable, and taste great. Just like wild oysters, most farmed oysters are the same Chesapeake native species. Most farmed oysters are sterile, known as “triploids,” which makes them more resistant to disease and faster growing. Oyster farmers specifically raise their oysters for the half-shell market, so they have deeper reservoirs, or ‘cups,’ in order to reserve all the precious liquor inside. Farmed oysters also have a consistent flavor—something that isn’t always true of wild oysters, which are harvested wherever available and might be salty, sweet, or somewhere in between, depending on where they were harvested.
Oystermen and oysterwomen who harvest wild caught oysters are typically known as ‘watermen’, and those who raise farmed oysters are mostly referred to as ‘aquaculture farmers’.
The watermen traditions and lifestyle have long been passed through families from generation to generation, while aquaculture is a relatively new practice that has appeared in the last two decades in the Chesapeake Bay region.”