Oys­ter grow­ing ven­ture brings bright prospects

Fish Farmer - - Contents - Nicki Holm­yard

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

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