Updated: Sep 7, 2021
If you are interested in how oysters are cultivated in the pure waters of Brancaster then read my blog. Not an occupation for the faint hearted, it can be cold and windy during the winter months and that's when the hard work is done, sorting and sifting and changeing to larger mesh containers as the oyster spat grows quite rapidly.
BRITISH NATIVE OYSTERS
The two most common oysters farmed in the UK are the native oyster (ostrea edulis) and the Pacific oyster (crassostea gigas). The Native Oyster (image above) is not grown commercially in Brancaster today because of the time needed to grow to market size which is approximately three full summer seasons, therefore not really commercially viable. Because it is native to the UK it spawn's during the summer months and consequently by law can only be eaten during any month with an R in.
The Pacific Oyster is by far the most popular species grown by oyster cultivators due to its fast growth and the excellent flavour. Oysters and mussels and other shellfish feed on planktom as they filter the water. Planktom is a microscopict organism plant. Here in Brancaster the oysters are cultivated in the marsh creeks where they benifit when the tide flows in and again when it flows out again. The fast flowing tide in the creeks of Brancaster Staithe is perfect for the shellfish to open and filter the water, captureing as much planktom as possible.
Oyster spat is produced by specialists in almost laboratory conditions. The spat is supplied to the oyster farms when it is about 5-10 mm in size as can be seen in the image above. At this stage the spat is placed in very fine mesh container or bag. At this point it can double in size every week. As the spat grows it is constantly moved by the grower to larger mesh bags. At the same time they must be thinned out to give them plenty of room to open and filter for planktom. This process is very labour intensive and a lot of time is taken careing for the young oysters.
OYSTERS IN BAGS
Evenetually placed in large bag until they reach a marketable size of approximately 8-10 centimetres in length. The oysters are then placed in ultraviolet purification tanks for 48 hours before being marketed. The Pacific Oyster dosen't spawn in the colder waters of the UK hence can be marketed and consumed throughout the whole year. Oysters were first cultivated in Brancaster about 45 years ago when the AFFL experimented with Pacific Oysters in the waters of Brancaster Staithe. The result was very positive showing an excellent growth rate for oysters. The water was tested and proved to be amongst the cleanest on the UK coast. Following that several shell fishermen began to cultivate oysters in Brancaster, although there are only a couple of growers here now.