I never dreamt that I would become an oyster farmer. As a child I wanted to be a famous footballer, although I was always inspired by fisherman and their tales. It was in the mid 70s when I was given some oyster seeds to try on my father’s mussel beds, and from that moment on I was hooked. It took about 10 years for my oyster farm to become viable, and soon after I decided to give up the mussel farming and focus purely on oysters (after all, I am rather partial to them).
Life as an oyster farmer means that no two days are the same. I go down to the beds three or four times a week, starting at first light, which can be before 5am in the summer months. I have to work with the tide and there’s only a four-hour window whilst the tide is out, and I can work on the beds in the estuary in low water.
Every year I put small seed oysters onto the beds, and from there it’s just a case of tending and nurturing them until they reach maturity. This process can take anything from 2 to 2 ½ years. I buy the pacific rock oyster larvae, which comes from a hatchery where the environment is controlled, so I know exactly where my oysters have come from and I know they are going to be of the highest standard.
Oysters are a wonderful source of protein; they purify the water and help to protect the shoreline. So as well as being delicious, they’re doing their bit for the environment.
When they’re ready, I pick the oysters from the bed and bring them ashore where I wash them to get rid of any mud. If left on the oyster bed they can grow to be very big. The largest oyster I have seen was about 7-8”! Following this they go into the purification tank. The good thing about farmed oysters is that they can be harvested all year round. I make up the various orders and deliver them to local retailers and restaurants including The White Horse at Brancaster Staithe as well as The Hoste at Burnham Market, together with some wholesalers.
There is something deeply satisfying about my job: it feels as though I live in a separate world at times. The isolation and peace fills me with tranquility and is hugely satisfying. I love the freedom of working outside, in such beautiful natural surroundings and getting away from it all. I couldn’t ask for a lovelier area either. North Norfolk is so unspoilt and has such a variety of scenery and wildlife – mostly curlews, which are the largest European wading bird instantly recognizable by their long, down curved bill, brown upper parts, long legs and evocative call. Occasionally, I’ll even see a seal!
I do hope that someone will take over my job from me one day. I don’t have any children myself, so perhaps one of the other fishermen in the harbour will have a son or daughter that might be interested. There will always be a demand for oysters so there should always be someone to do the job!
Photos taken by Pamela Farrell
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