The parlous state of the oyster

On the 4th of December, this year, a ton of oysters was stolen from an oyster cultivator, Anne Dubouy, in the prime oyster production area of Marennes in the Charente-Maritime. It happened at night. The thieves chose the most commercially viable oysters, together with the complete stock of lobsters, crabs and gambas. As it happened on a Friday night, it is assumed that they were to be sold at a market over the weekend.

As one commentator has said -” This is our last Christmas with oysters..”. This maybe an over statement, but it clearly reflects the present situation. Over the last three years oysters have nearly doubled in price due to an unusually high mortality rate in the “naissans” (young oysters). As France produces around 130,000 tons of oysters each year, a current mortality rate of between 40% and 100% is on the level of a disaster; both ecological and financial, and indeed gustatory.

Oleron oysters

I can happily forgo foie gras ( which is not to say that I dislike it, merely that I can do without it) but oysters do it for me, particularly those from the Atlantic coast of France. Those from Marennes-Oleron are my favourites. These are not oysters to slip down your throat, but more to bite on like a piece of meat or fish. They are often described as “charnu” or fleshy. They have an iodide marine flavour that is loved or hated. Recipes for cooked oysters abound, but they are aimed at people who don’t like oysters. A little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down. I have no intention of proselytising to the non believer, the less people that like oysters, the better.

The really bad news is that there is talk of a laboratory generated oyster that would be immune to the viruses that currently lay waste their natural brethren. We already have triploides oysters, which have had their chromosomes engineered to ensure that we can have oysters in any month with any letter in it. The problem appears to be with our insatiable appetites – we always need more of everything,  normally with very little satisfaction, we just want more. Lewis Caroll may well have got it right:

“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.



About Food,Photography & France

Photographer and film maker living in France. After a long career in London, my wife and I have settled in the Vendee, where we run residential digital photography courses with a strong gastronomic flavour.
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3 Responses to The parlous state of the oyster

  1. Roger, how can you tell whether you’re eating triploides oysters or the naturally occurring ones? I cannot understand why anyone would eat a cooked oyster. The taste, texture, appeal of the oyster is just void. Raw rules.

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