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At Simply Oysters, we're proud to work with our oyster farms and fisheries, who responsibly and sustainably grow and harvest farmed and wild oysters to produce a natural food source for people now and in the future.
Let's take a look at the differences between farmed and wild oysters in the UK...
Farmed Pacific Oysters
The Pacific Oyster is the most commonly farmed oyster in the UK and the world.
The Pacific Oyster is the preferred choice by almost all oyster farmers worldwide. The Pacific Oyster is robust, and develops to market size in 'only' 24 to 36 months. Today, the Pacific Oyster represents over 98% of all farmed oysters in the world.
The Pacific Oyster is grown and cultivated from seed to market size at licensed oyster farms, under labour intensive methods (known as 'Aquaculture'). These oyster farms are carefully chosen for their superior site location, brackish waters (salinity, nutrients, temperature etc.), tides, weather, climates and seasons.
Oyster farmers place juvenile oysters into nylon mesh bags (with smaller sized mesh), which allow plenty of water and food (pyhtoplankton) for the oysters to develop to market size; protect the oysters from predators; and enable the oysters to be cultivated by the oyster farmers. These bags are affixed to trestles (the traditional 'rack and bag' method) or floating long line systems.
The oysters, bags and trestles are situated at or near the surface of the water, where there is more nutrient and oxygen rich surface water; and the wave motion tumbles the oysters about, which helps to shape deep cup oyster shells. It's also easier for the oyster farmers to cultivate the oysters at 'waist height'.
As the oysters develop in size, the oyster farmers 'thin' them out, which means the oyster farmers place the oysters into less full bags (with larger sized mesh), which allows room for the oysters to develop further in size. This process takes place about six times, until the oysters reach market size.
Once the oysters reach market size (in 24 to 36 months), they are taken closer to the shore for about two weeks, where they spend at least half the day exposed when the tide is out to 'harden off' prior to market.
After that, the oysters are sustainably harvested by the oyster farmers; then cleaned, purified, packed live to order and dispatched by the oyster farm's depuration and dispatch centre for market. Oyster farms must adhere to UK food, health and safety laws.
The Pacific Oyster is abundant and sustainable; and is harvested for sale all year.
Wild Pacific Oysters
The Pacific Oyster is mostly farmed (see 'Farmed Oysters' above), but is also wild in certain waters in the UK.
The wild Pacific Oyster is robust and sustainable; and is hand-picked or fished for sale all year.
The Native Oyster is almost always wild, and is not usually farmed for many reasons: the Native Oyster takes a slow 48 to 60 months to reach market size (compared to the Pacific Oyster's 'quick' 24 to 36 months); and most importantly, the Native Oyster is not as robust (compared to the resilient Pacific Oyster) and is therefore susceptible to variations in site conditions (such as fluctuations to water salinity or temperature, weather, climates and seasons), which can increase mortality rates. Unfortunately, these factors and others make it unreliable and uneconomic to farm Native Oysters.
The Native Oyster grows from seed to adult size in the wild on the sea bed, and has been fished from certain UK waters since Roman times. Today, these wild oyster fisheries are licensed, and include waters as diverse as: River Blackwater in Essex; Whitstable Bay in Kent; River Fal in Cornwall; and Loch Ryan in Dumfries and Galloway.
UK laws and conservation controls ensure that wild Native Oyster stocks remain sustainable for the future. For example, governed by ancient laws, may only be fished from the River Fal (which is part of the Truro Oyster Fishery) from 1 October to 31 March by licensed fishermen, who must use sail or oar vessels, and haul their catch aboard by hand or hand winch. No motor or mechanical power is allowed.
The Native Oyster is fished for sale from 1 September (at the earliest) to 30 April each year. This is known as the Native Oyster season (in other words, the months of the year that contain the letter 'r'). By law, Native Oysters cannot be fished for sale outside of the Native Oyster season.
Whether farmed or wild - the oyster is a sustainable food source that's natural, nutritious and delicious!