The World Is Our Oyster

Every year for the past 5 years I have made the four-hour train journey down from London to Cornwall on a pilgrimage to the Falmouth Oyster Festival. But it’s only this year that I have realised why this festival is quite so special thanks to scientists from the University of Exeter.

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There are only three oyster fisheries left in England – Thames Estuary, Solent and Fal. Due to overfishing, the Solent and Thames Estuary have been temporarily closed, leaving the Fal still going strong. What we now see as ‘inefficient’ methods of fishing (because they take often take a greater deal of effort and result in a smaller yield), is actually what has kept the Fal so sustainable.

The Fal fishery only uses traditional methods including hand-hauling the oysters up and operating under sail power rather than using engines. This makes it a pretty special operation and the last commercial sailing fleet in Europe.

According to the scientists this "inherent inefficiency" is preventing overfishing and ensuring the fishery's long-term survival. "In this study, we wanted to find out whether the longevity of the Fal oyster fishery was linked to traditional methods that have been used for centuries," Professor ffrench-Constant said. Dr Matthew Witt, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter, added: "People are becoming increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how it is sourced.

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Eating something that was once a food for the poor and is now essentially a ‘luxury’ really makes you question how we’ve got things so wrong. It felt really satisfying to knock back a few oysters (along with a crisp white wine) knowing that we were contributing to local livelihoods and actually not damaging stocks in the process.

With the oysters we have reached such desperate points that not only has it become a luxury good, but we’ve almost reached the end of the line. The world is full of opportunities and provides us with pearls of wisdom, beauty and sustenance. Yes we should take advantage of the opportunities, but we shouldn't exploit all the resources. 

 

Have Centuries of Inefficient Fishing Sustained a Wild Oyster Fishery: a Case Study

Millie Diamond