Harvesting Flat Oysters in Yerseke

Now back in Europe, Haydn has been working on a Dutch oyster farm in Yerseke, Zeeland, to get a feel for the European oysters. Zeeland is a conglomerate of several islands, peninsula’s and rivers like the Eastern Scheldt, with Yerseke sitting on its coast.  When the oysters are harvested, they are stored in a so called “wet warehouse”. It’s a large cement basin, over one hundred and fifty years old. After being harvested, the oysters are kept in the water in crates.  The tide from the Eastern Scheldt comes in twice a day, cleaning the oysters and keeping them fresh until the moment they are packed and distributed – that’s how we get the freshest oysters possible.

Yerseke is an industrious fishermen’s village in the South-West of Holland, and is renowned for its long history of mussel and oyster cultivation.  In the 1980’s the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier was completed, a series of movable barriers, sluices, and dams, designed to protect the southwestern part of the Netherlands from flooding while maintaining its ecological balance. During normal tides the gates are open allowing tidal flows and marine life to live uninterrupted. As a result, Unesco has proclaimed the East Scheldt to be Europe’s cleanest water estuary. 

For generations the farmers have been growing their oysters here. Both flat and rock oysters are cultivated in these nutrient rich-waters. Though both hailing from the same waters, they diverge in taste, texture, and appearance. The flat oyster with a smooth, oval shape shell, is revered for its briny intensity.  In contrast, the rock oyster has a robust, more earthy flavour complemented by a meatier texture. It has a rugged shell, with jagged edges and a distinctive mantle of earthy hues.

The oysters are cultivated using two different methods; the traditional bottom culture and the newer off-bottom culture, which was introduced in Holland just nine years ago. Bottom culture uses the natural sea floor as the base for oyster farms, and simulates a natural oyster environment. Bottom culture often produces oysters with stronger shells. This may be due to minerals on the sea bed or a natural adaptation to a more hostile environment.

Off-bottom oyster farming is the culture of oysters usually held in some type of mesh container (basket, bag, cage, etc.) that are kept above the seafloor. Oysters grown this way are typically hatchery-reared single set oysters instead of clumps of oysters normally found in the wild.

On his time in Yerseke, Haydn noted ”I wasn’t fully aware before that cultivating oysters involves so much manual labor. It takes three to four years to cultivate an oyster, from a seedling to a full grown oyster, and almost weekly they are being looked after. Taking into account the bad weather conditions, like storms, extreme high tide or cold – it’s a lot the oyster farmer has to endure to grow a tasteful and healthy oyster.”  When I eat an oyster now, I am even more appreciative than I was before!”

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