How we farm Brancaster Oysters
The two most common oysters found in the UK are the Pacific oyster (Crassostea Gigas) and the Native oyster (Ostrea Edulis), the latter was once a staple diet for British people. Overharvesting in the 18th and 19th centuries has resulted in this species being quite rare today. They are still cultivated and occasionally they can be found wild. Native oysters are more expensive as they take at least twice as long as the Pacific oyster to grow to an edible size. Native oysters spawn in the summer months, therefore, by law, they can only be harvested in months with an R, September - April. The shell is similar in shape to a clam. The taste is different to the Pacific oyster.
Pacific Oysters are by far the most cultivated as they grow much faster than any other species. The spat is produced by specialist seed growers who then sell them on to the Oyster cultivators. On receipt of the spat, they only measure about 4-5mm in size. The image here shows how small they are. At this stage, the spat is placed in a very fine mesh container or bag. They can double in size every week. As the spat grows it is constantly transferred manually by the grower to larger bags with a bigger size mesh. Therefore a lot of time and effort is spent caring for the young oysters.
Oysters, mussels, and most other shellfish feed on plankton, so the better the flow of water the more they can feed and the quicker they grow. A general marketing size would be about 8-10 centimeters. Eventually placed in a large mesh bag and regularly thinned out to give plenty of growing room and cleaned of any accumulated silt. Another positive from a growers point of view is the pacific oyster doesn't spawn in the colder waters of the UK, and therefore can be marketed throughout the whole year,
There are several ways different growers proceed, but here in Brancaster, the oysters are cultivated in the marsh creek, where they benefit from the tidal flow both when the tide flows out and when it flows in again. The oysters open their shells to capture as much plankton as possible.
Although the water here is among the purist in the UK, the oysters are placed in the ultraviolet purification tanks before going to the market.
Oysters were first cultivated and farmed in Brancaster about 45 years ago when the AFFA experimented with producing pacific oysters in the waters of BrancasterStaithe. The results were very positive and showed an excellent growth rate for oysters. Also, the waters were shown to be among the purist on the UK coast. Following that, several shellfishermen began to cultivate oysters here, although there are only a couple of producers active today.