The Fal estuary in Cornwall has the only stock of native oysters fished entirely by man and wind power using sailboats and haul-towed punts.
The wild oysters belong to the ostrea edulis species, they live on the river bed or on the layer of shells deposited there. A law dating back to 1868 makes it illegal to gather them with mechanical means or from crafts other than sail boats or haul-tow punts. The fleet of oyster fishing boats, governed by the Truro Harbour Authority, operates out of Mylor Harbour in Cornwall. It is the last fleet in the UK to be made up entirely of sail boats and haul-tow punts, and the only one in Europe that is used for commercial purposes. The oyster gatherers and the Port of Truro Oyster Fishermen's Protection Association have drawn up regulations to protect this local resource.
The fishermen use small hand - operated dredges, only capture molluscs with a shell larger than five centimetres in diameter, and operate within a very short fishing season. At the end of the dredge, they return to port and sell the oysters to the wholesalers (there are four along the Fal & Helford Rivers), who clean and grade the oysters ready to be sold to restaurant owners and shops locally, nationally and internationally. Fal Oysters have a more resistant texture to the bite and flesh sweeter than other species and are sought-after for their famously exquisite flavour: fresh, clean and delicate with a strong mineral finish.
Despite sustainability measures and the abundant supply, the Fal oyster fishery risks extinction because it is threatened by competition in its environment from non-native species, the slipper limpets. Stocks are also being damaged by the moorings of recreational yachts. As a low-volume catch, poor pay can discourage young people from taking up the craft.
The objective of the Presidium is to ensure that the fishermen and wholesalers get the best possible price for their oysters. It will endeavour to develop the product better at the local level by creating a recognisable logo and promoting the distinctive gastronomic characteristics of the oysters.
To this end, for the past eleven years the town has organised the Falmouth Oyster Festival, which takes place in October, to coincide with the start
of the native oyster season.
Fal River estuary, county of Cornwall, England
tel. +44 7811323920