The colourful history of Jersey's oyster industry

October 1st, 2014

According to info got by Jersey Post has prepared for issuing a set of stamps dedicated to its oyster industry. The colourful history of Jersey's oyster industry is one to be celebrated as part of the Island's great heritage. Scenes from both the past and present are depicted on this set of six stamps and Miniature Sheet. The issue is to be released on the 9th of October.

Archaeological evidence shows that oysters were eaten by islanders 6,000 years ago, and were fished off Gorey throughout the Middle Ages.

During the 19th century the industry became a huge money-spinner for the island and Jersey became one of north-west Europe's main oyster producers. An estimated 2 billion were exported to English markets between 1810 and 1871, when various circumstances saw the industry die out. Shallow waters between Jersey and Normandy made for ideal conditions for the flat, horses-hoof-shaped oysters. They were not regarded as a luxury but as a staple part of the common diet of the population of cities such as London.

The nature of the islands oyster fisheries changed after the arrival of English oystermen in 1810; before this, fishing was for local consumption, not export. In Gorey hundreds of shoreworkers were employed as basket fillers, carriers, lifters and washers. The shore was a hive of activity during the second half of the oyster season, which lasted from February to April. In 1839 a canning factory was set up in a house on the Pier.

The industry went into a terminal decline in the 1860s when production fell from 76,000 tubs in 1860 to only 6,000 six years later (a tub was about 1,000 oysters). Authorities blamed over-fishing while the oystermen blamed the enforced closed season that allowed oyster beds to become choked with weed and a drop in oysters reproductive capacity.

By 1871 only six oyster boats were recorded as employed in Jersey. It is only in the last 30 years that the harvesting of oysters from Jersey waters has resumed in Grouville Bay. The rows of oysters on their tables can be seen across the bay when the tide is low, with Mont Orgueil Castle still making an impressive backdrop.

Tags: #Jersey