Crowdfunding by the local community has seen the return of oyster farming to the Exmoor village of Porlock after an absence of around 120 years.
Oyster fishing heritage
Porlock can trace its oyster fishing heritage back to 1836 and by the 1850s this had developed into a significant local industry, alongside herring and line fishing. Porlock oysters achieved national acclaim in 1874 when the railway opened at Minehead, taking deliveries to the whole country and top London restaurants of the time. Things came to an abrupt end in the 1890s, however, when a fleet of sailing ship dredgers came to the Bristol Channel and stripped the oyster beds clean.
Fast forward to 2012 when Porlock Parish Council set up a scheme to look for ways to improve employment in the area. A two-year trial followed, proving oysters could be farmed for human consumption on a commercially viable basis and to an incredibly high standard. The following year, the project received a £75,000 grant and locals crowdfunded a further £114,000 to set up a community-owned business.
Purest Pacific Oysters
Today, there are up to 750,000 Pacific oysters being farmed at any one time, with sales likely to rise to 300,000 within five years. The oysters are popular with local chefs and sold throughout the year to restaurants and food outlets, providing employment for seven part-time staff.
Not only that but Porlock can lay claim to being the only site in England and Wales to have achieved a class A rating for Pacific oyster purity from the Food Standards Agency.
David Salter and Roger Hall help Mike Lynch of Porlock Futures Community Interest Company run the business. David explains:
“We buy the oysters in when they are smaller than your little finger nail and they take three years to grow to restaurant size, so we use the River Avon as a nursery site and finish them off for a few months in Porlock Bay to acquire the ‘Porlock Taste’.
“When the tide is out we put the oysters into big, black, heavy plastic sacks and strap them down on to metal trestles so they are in the water. When the tide returns the oysters are fed by nutrients from the sea flowing over them.
“We have the second highest tidal range in the world in the Bristol Channel so the oysters are exposed more than they would be elsewhere. This develops a stronger oyster because you get more muscle in it and that makes it much chewier, with more flavour.”