It’s hard to imagine a more scenic setting for aquaculture than Jersey Oyster Company’s site in the Royal Bay of Grouville on the south coast of the island, overlooked by Mont Orgueil Castle.
It’s here that the company’s oysters come to maturity on 40 hectares of intertidal trestles, benefitting from the rich nutrients brought into the bay by the third highest tidal range in the world – during Spring tides the sea can go out two miles and the island doubles in size.
The Jersey Oyster Company was the first oyster producer in the world to become ASC certified, achieving this in 2015 before gaining recertification in 2018. Charlie Mourant, Technical Manager at the company, remembers the process: “It was a straightforward process for us, and helpful in that it gave us a checklist to help marshal our thoughts. Although we already had a big focus on responsible farming, it was important to have this checked by an independent outside body. And the ASC and MSC Chain of Custody element reassures our customers of the authenticity and provenance of our oysters.”
Why did they go for ASC? “We wanted an international standard that encompassed the environmental aspects of responsible farming but also the social element of things – it’s very important to us to be good neighbours on the beach,” Charlie explains. And it’s a very well used beach – as well as two other farms sited nearby, the beach is used recreationally for swimming, sailing, kite-surfing, and simply for enjoying its scenery.
“The coast where we’re sited is part of an area of wetlands protected under the Ramsar Convention,” says Charlie. This is an intergovernmental treaty signed in 1971 aiming to designate and protect wetlands of international importance, and it means the use of Jersey’s south-east coast is closely monitored. Charlie is positive about this. “It’s another level of monitoring, another body of professionals keeping an eye on our environmental impact,” he explains. And it seems the company is a welcome addition to the important wetlands, he adds: “The trestles create a reef environment, break up the water and provide habitats for other creatures – levels of seagrass are increasing, for example.”
Charlie joined Jersey Oyster Company in 2014, making the switch to seafood from land-based agriculture, having worked as a technical manager at a farming cooperative. He was hired to look at various areas he had previously specialised in on land, such as stock control and purification.
In some ways oysters are less complicated than a lot of land-based farming. “Oysters feed themselves from the nutrients in the sea, and we don’t need to give them any medication, it’s a very natural process,” Charlie says, but it’s clearly no easy job to produce high quality oysters: “The oysters are in mesh bags, which need to be regularly moved – unhooked and flipped over to prevent seaweed growing on one side or the other. But it’s a balancing act – if you move them too much they tend to hunker down, and won’t grow as much, especially in the summer.”
Oysters also have an unhelpful habit of fusing together and forming reefs, and so need constant tapping and chipping away to keep them in the classic teardrop shape we all recognise.
Then there’s the fact that they might grow at different rates, as Charlie explains: “We can manage their growth, bringing them up the beach to spend less time in the water to slow them down, or vice versa. Chris is very adept at getting the best growth out of oysters though, as he’s been doing it all his life.” That’s Chris Le Masurier, owner of Jersey Oyster Company, who is the third generation of his family to farm oysters after his grandfather set up the company in 1973.
The work doesn’t end when the oysters are mature. Then they’re moved to a part of the beach where they will spend around six hours a day out of the water – four weeks of this prepares them for being out of the water during transport, and less stress during transport means stronger oysters that stay closed and fresh. Finally, they’re purified – but even this is done using natural processes, as Charlie explains: “Seawater, pumped up at high tide, is filtered and UV treated before being used in our state of the art purification system.”
So while their environmental footprint might be tiny, producing the perfect oyster is certainly no picnic. Is it worth it – is Charlie an oyster fan? “I love them, raw or cooked,” he replies, not missing a beat. His passion is clear as he immediately starts giving advice on cooking techniques: “Cooking is ideal for the larger oysters, because they shrink a bit when cooked. Just stick them in the oven, the shell will pop open, then you can take them out and drizzle some garlic butter over them – or something more adventurous.” Sounds good to us!