Commercial photography in Whitstable – the oyster seeding
Two million baby oysters a year arrive in Whitstable. Two million of them. They’re tiny.
I photographed the annual oyster seeding in Whitstable as part of some commercial photography in Whitstable for the Oyster Fishery Company and Realising Designs.
They’re imported from France from a special hatchery as the native oyster has not yet been successfully grown on a commercial scale. Their new home are double-skinned meshed bags (to withstand the pummelling of the tides) before being placed on trestles off the coast, just outside the town.
They take three years to mature, being brought back to shore six times to be regraded and placed in larger mesh bags until they reach maturity (“market size”).
They’ve found oyster shells alongside Neanderthal remains. They’ve even found Whitstable oyster shells in the Coliseum in Rome.
At their peak consumption in the UK, records show that 1851 alone 500 million oysters, packed in barrels, went through Billingsgate Market until a series of cold winters in the early and mid 20th century seriously reduced stocks.
Pollution caused further damage. Then came a parasite in the Eighties, which decimated many oyster beds to a production of a couple of million. We won’t mentioned the outbreak of herpes that originated in France in 2010.
Production has been rising steadily each year. The Shellfish Association puts rising demand down to changing tastes, a campaign to promote the health benefits of oysters – especially their omega 3 content – and recognition by watchdogs of their sustainable nature (they need no artificial feeding or treatment whilst they grow).