Guernsey oysters are known for their sweetness and succulence, and guests at The Duke of Richmond Hotel and The Old Government House Hotel & Spa can indulge in the island’s finest. Guernsey & Herm Oysters rear sustainably farmed, organic oysters that are delectable local delicacies. Here, its director and owner Charlotte Dickson tells us about the secrets of Guernsey oyster farming.
How did you get into oyster farming?
“We came from Jersey four years ago; Justin [the manager of Guernsey & Herm Oysters] had managed an oyster farm there and always wanted to return to oyster farming. We looked at various places in the UK and further afield, then fate intervened. I was in Guernsey, helping a friend with an event at Beau Séjour, when I was introduced to a chap who was selling an oyster farm at Rocquaine. The rest, as they say, is history!”
What makes Guernsey oysters so special?
“Guernsey is one of the few places in the world where every oyster consumed in the Bailiwick has been reared in the Bailiwick.
Our oyster seed is produced at the local hatchery, Guernsey Sea Farms, using brood stock that is taken from our farm in Herm. We select the best shaped oysters with the best shells and meat to be ‘parents’ for our oncoming stock. This ensures that, in the next generation of oysters, quality and consistency is maintained. As oysters are filter feeders and take their food from the water they’re reared in, they’ll have a unique taste from wherever they are grown.”
How do you ensure sustainably?
“When it comes to choosing a sustainably farmed seafood, the oyster is very hard to beat.
The majority of the oysters for consumption are the product of aquaculture, and, unlike many farmed fish, these shellfish have very little negative impact on their surrounding environment. As the oyster seed is grown from brood stock supplied by us at the Guernsey Hatchery, there is no risk of species contamination.
One of the most common concerns with most aquaculture is that farm effluence runs off into the surrounding habitat, causing problems like algae blooms. Oysters, as with other shellfish like mussels, do not pose these sorts of problems. In fact, because oysters are a filter-feeding bivalve, they actually clean the water around them. The installation of an oyster farm can actually be a very effective way to clean up a polluted bay, since a mature oyster is able to filter up to 50 gallons of water per day.
Another major concern with many fish farms is that farmed fish may escape and interbreed with wild fish, muddling the gene pool. But since oysters aren't mobile until they reach adulthood (and are ready to be harvested and eaten), intermixing isn't much of an issue. Furthermore, oyster farmers don't need to use pesticides or antibiotics to keep their oysters healthy, nor do the oysters need to be given feed.
Oysters are very well-suited for farming. They are very low in saturated fat and contain lots of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, zinc, magnesium and calcium.”
Why are oysters such a good indication of an ecosystem’s health?
“Because oysters are filter feeders and filter such an incredible amount of water per day, it would become immediately apparent if there was an issue with the water that flows through the farm. Our regular testing regime and monitoring procedures of both oysters directly from the farm and post-purification, ensures consistent observance.”
Are there any unusual ways of serving oysters you’d recommend?
“There are countless ways to enjoy oysters; served hot and cold, fried, poached, with hot sauce or just with lemon. A favourite in our house is with garlic butter, poached in their own liquor on the barbeque.”