The Clarenbridge Oyster Galway
The Clarenbridge oyster bed in Galway is situated at the mouths of the Dunkellin and Clarenbridge rivers. It consists of 700 acres of sea-bed. Oyster beds require a combination of fresh and sea water. Therefore they will only survive where a river enters the sea. If there is an excessive amount of fresh water, for example, after a season of heavy rainfall, the oyster will become too fat and open.
The Clarenbridge Oyster Bed is a natural bed. It is not cultivated in any way.
The dredging season lasts from late November to the end of December. It is dredged every year by about 60 boats each having two people. These people would be local farmers. During dredging, oysters less than 3″ in diameter must be cast back into the sea again so that the stocks would not be diminshed.
Oysters are bought by about five local dealers – each of these would own their own private steeping ground. They in turn would meet the demand from restaurants in the area and the export market to France, England, etc.
Oysters in General
Oysters have existed since pre-historic times. The saxons enjoyed them before the Romans invaded Britain and there are those that would say it was for their excellent oysters that they invaded at all! Throughout their history, oysters have been regarded as a luxury but due to over-fishing the price dropped so low that at the beginning of the 19th Century they became the food of the poor. During the famine years people who lived near the sea survived on them. In about 1850, oyster culture started to become an industry and legislation in France and Britain protected the stocks.
Oysters are bi-valve molluscs which means that they are shellfish with two
hearts. Every year they change sex – in fact every other year they can be a father and mother to two separate litters in the same year! They feed by pumping 1-6 litres of water through their gills every day – the equivalent of a human drinking a large public swimming pool every day.
Oyster farming is a skilled business involving four separate stages:
- Collecting larvae (captage du naissain)
- Raising (l’elevage)
- Fattening (l’affinage)
- Preparation for market (l’expedition)
Like other forms of farming oysters are affected by the weather, pollution and disease but unlike farming on land you cannot treat your livestock against sickness nor can you put it into a warm barn if the winter gets too cold!
It takes 3-5 years for oysters to grow to a diameter of 3″ – a marketable oyster during which time the producers risk is very high. This is one of the reasons why the cost to the consumer has risen so much over the past few years.
For the technically minded, their nutritional value is: Water – 79.5%, Fat – 1.8%, Protein – 10.5%, Carbohydrate – 5.6%, Ash, sand salt – 2.47%. Vitamins – A, B1, B2, C, D, PP.
Each oyster contains about 7 calories which should allow the most weight conscious among us to enjoy half a dozen or so. Oysters are considered to be an aphrodisiac. Casanova is said to have eaten them every day! While there is no evidence to uphold this theory, they certainly are a healthy food.