Oyster growing venture brings bright prospects
S CE the first Porlock Bay ysters were laid on the beach in 2013, this Community nterest Company (C C) project has not been ar rom the news, or offering bright prospects to the area. Situated on the Bristol Channel, which has the second highest tidal range in the world, and is ully exposed to the sea rom the north west, Porlock would not seem to be a natural choice or an oyster arming venture.
However, back in 2012, the local parish council was seeking ways to improve employment prospects in the area, to raise the profile o the town, and to make money or local good causes. Porlock Futures C C was set up to investigate a number o different possibilities.
nly one third o the national average o school leavers stay in the area, as there is little employment or them other than seasonal tourism jobs, and we wanted to change that, said Mike Lynch, the company s treasurer.
We knew that Porlock had a history o fishing or native oysters ( strea edulis), and that during most o the 1800s there was a significant industry here. Sadly, as with all other oyster fisheries, it died out due to overfishing in the 1890s, but it gave us cause or optimism, he added.
The first step was to gather together a group o people interested in helping out, and to seek grants to undertake a pilot project. With funding secured, an operations manager, Tim Edwards,and his daughter Fiona were employed to oversee the project, assisted by two enthusiastic local volunteers.
Excitement was high in the community when the first batch o Pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas) rom Morecambe Bay ysters was purchased, and trans erred to mesh bags, strapped to trestles on the beach.
These enabled growth trials to take place and provided samples for statutory sanitary surveys, the results o which are used to grade the shellfish harvesting water.
The testing regime showed minimal levels o e-coli in the water and allowed the site to be awarded an A classification. This means that the oysters can be placed on to the market without the need or depuration.
Encouraged by the results, the committee undertook a crowd unding effort among the local community, which has now raised £114,000 in short-term loans rom 170 people, with more than one third choosing not to charge any interest.
‘We set the investment limit at £1,000 per person, to spread the risk, but were really pleased when so many people came forward to support the project,’ said Lynch.
‘The community interest company structure means that all profits will be used or the benefit o the whole community.
The money, together with a 75,000 grant rom Power to Change, helped to set the project up on a more commercial ooting.
The project was stepped up early in April 2016, with additional trestles placed on the beach and 80,000 part-grown oysters purchased rom Caledonian ysters.
We took in 20-30g, 30-40g and 40+g to ascertain which si es grew better in the challenging conditions and added urther seed rom Caledonian and Morecambe Bay ysters in the summer,’ said Lynch.
The oysters take around three years to reach ideal harvest si e o 85g. They need no external eed input, and filter all their nutrients rom the sea.
n June 2016, all but the 40+g oysters were moved to a sheltered nursery site at Bantham to encourage better growth. The water is less
range less extreme.
‘The idea was that near market size oysters would be transferred back to Porlock for a cou Lynch.
‘In this way, the oysters take on the local ‘ter
days per month, which puts the pressure on the team, and local volunteers are always welcome to help spread the workload.
Limited access to the oyster trestles also
Each tank can house up to 750 oysters set seawater, which is changed every month.
kill any bacteria in the water and ensure the oysters are perfectly safe for consumers to enjoy.
The hot summer weather proved too much
The company currently employs seven people refrigerated van which is used for limited local sales.
Branding on the van helps spread the word about Porlock Bay Oysters among local restaurants and pubs, and excitement is building Lynch, at present demand far exceeds supply.
‘We can only supply a couple of businesses but next year we will have around 170,000 to sell, rising to the low 200,000s in 2019 and to 450,000 by 2022.
from Guernsey Sea Farms to ensure we reach
The beach is owned by Porlock Manor Estate, let the company lease a second, more sheltered site.
storage ponds used to be situated when the hopeful that it will provide a less challenging
The parish council has also been running an oyster growing trial using seabed cages laid on a deep water site in Porlock Bay and the results are awaited with interest.
However, the journey has not been an easy and band of volunteers has now slimmed down, but perhaps that is the case with any community project.
Mike Lynch believes that the majority of the farming and management issues have now been overcome and that the future will be rosier than the past.
‘It has been a very steep learning curve for all we will make a success of this venture and that
“It has been a very steep learning curve for all of us and we ”
Below: Oyster farming at Porlock Bay. Opposite page: Fiona Edwards; the depuration plant; Porlock Bay