Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a naturally occurring estuarine bacterium that is often associated with gastroenteritis in humans following consumption of raw molluscan shellfish. A number of studies have investigated the environmental distribution of V. parahaemolyticus, but little is known about the levels of this organism during distribution of oysters or at the point of consumption. Duplicate samples of shellstock oysters were collected monthly (September 1997 to May 1998) from the same four restaurants and three wholesale seafood markets in the Gainesville, Fla. area and analyzed for total V. parahaemolyticus densities using two methods: a standard MPN method (BAM-MPN) and a new direct plating procedure (direct-VPAP). Both methods employed an alkaline phosphatase-labeled DNA probe (VPAP) targeting the species-specific thermolabile hemolysin (tlh) gene to confirm suspect colonies as V. parahaemolyticus. The highest monthly geometric mean V. parahaemolyticus density was observed in October of 1997 (approximately 3,000/g) with similarly high values during September and November of 1997. From December 1997 to May 1998 mean densities were generally less than 100/g, falling to approximately 10/g in February and March. A strong correlation (r = 0.78) between the direct-VPAP and BAM-MPN methods for determining V. parahaemolyticus densities in market-level oysters was observed. The direct-VPAP method was more rapid and precise while the BAM-MPN was more sensitive and may better recover stressed cells. The utilization of the VPAP probe for identification of V. parahaemolyticus sharply reduced the labor for either method compared to biochemical identification techniques used in earlier V. parahaemolyticus surveys.