Seymour Oysters, based in Grouville Bay on the east coast of Jersey, have been farming the world’s most-consumed oyster – the Pacific Crassostrea Gigas Oyster – for 20 years. At any one time you will find more than 1.5m within their 14 hectares of oyster beds, which is equivalent to 14 football pitches. Quite some size!

John Robert Le Seelleur, is a 17th-generation farmer and the only one on Jersey still farming and living on the same land. He can trace his family’s connection to St Martin parish back to the 1400s, which is quite remarkable. John feels that farming at sea is much the same as on land, you have rows of a crop which you attend to with love and attention – you just have to make sure you are ahead of the tide! 

Asked why they chose to start farming oysters, John’s wife Shannon said: “Oysters are an amazing and healthy crop, full of so much goodness. We are so proud to grow what I call ‘a sexy little bivalve packed full of goodness’. And nothing goes to waste either, as the shells can be crushed and used on the land.”

Crassostrea gigas, a Pacific oyster, were introduced onto the island around 1960. Jersey’s native oysters, the flat oyster ostrea edulis, were reduced to very low numbers towards the end of the 1800s due to overfishing. Grouville Bay has one of the largest tidal ranges in the world and Seymour Oyster Co has one of the largest oyster beds in the UK. It’s so much easier to grow oysters in Jersey than in many other places, as it has large areas of flat sand and one of the largest tidal ranges in the world. 

Here are some of the best way to enjoy oysters, according to Shannon:

Fresh, with nothing added. Just enjoy the uniquely, slightly salty crystal clear waters of the sea which the oyster turns into its own mild unique taste, although some people like to discard this, which is fine. 

For those who would like to enhance their oysters, she suggests adding a touch of lemon juice or chives and wash them down with Champagne or a good sparkling wine. 

Or try eating them freshly opened and adding Shannon’s favourite mix: very finely chopped red onions, a touch of water and a good balsamic vinegar. Add the mix just as you are about to eat the oyster. 

For those of us who enjoy a drink, Shannon suggests putting a touch of gin in a small glass. Add the oyster just as you are about to drink it and knock it back! Smallish oysters are best for this, and in particular what they call a No 3. 

Another favourite way is to put them in a very hot oven for just one minute so they open themselves. Leave them in for just a moment or two then take them out, add finely chopped red onions with a little balsamic vinegar or just lemon or garlic butter, and you might also like to add a few chives.

I get the feeling that farming oysters is a way of life. One that you truly have to love, as is testament by Shannon’s final words: “I love this lifestyle, we make the most of it and get so much back. When I first met my lovely husband and he took me out there I sat in the tractor while the water built up all around us. Yes, I was worried, the water was knee high and all the staff were still working. Our beds are a good mile offshore so I was beginning to wonder what was happening, even though the tractor engine was running. Then John said OK and within seconds the whole operation pulled together and we were back on the slip within five minutes!” 

If you are in Jersey and would like to try Seymour oysters, why not go on one of the couple’s Champagne & Oysters Tours? You will go out to the oyster beds and see how they harvest and cultivate such an amazing crop. More information can be found at: seymourshellfish.co.uk

This article was taken from our cookbook Slice of Jersey which is available on Amazon.co.uk

Words – David Pearce
Photographs – Catherine Hill

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