The story of oyster farming in Ireland dates back centuries, but nowadays the Gigas oyster does not occur naturally in Irish seas. That’s why, every year, we import oyster seed (called spat, or ‘naissain’ in French) from leading hatcheries in France (France is both Europe’s largest producer and consumer of oysters).
Commercial oysters can be either naturally or hatchery produced (using strong brood stock which has been harvested and tested especially for European waters).
At Harty Oysters we import oyster seed every year and continuously monitor the growth cycle in order to guarantee a regular supply of ‘speciale’ oysters to our customers. Each year, we import up to 30 million seed (in line with standards set out by the Marine Institute and the Department of the Marine).
The oyster seed varies in size from 1mm up to 12mm in length. When purchasing the smaller sizes, we place the spat in our state-of-the-art nursery, which has the capacity to grow 2 to 3 million seed on a 6 week cycle (when is then placed on the tidal strand of our 90 hectares oyster park). We prefer to control the life cycle of the oyster for as long as possible as it means we can tend and grow the ‘speciale’ oyster to the highest standards as quickly as possible which also makes them stronger and healthier.
Our oysters start their lives in 4mm bags: in the first year we turn the bags over three times, thereby ensuring the best possible shape. We then grade and re-bag the oysters in 9mm bags, thinning them out so they have more space to grow. In the second year the bags are turned five times and then graded for size again. In the third year we turn the bags one last time which helps to give the oysters a longer shelf life when they are finally bought in, packaged and sold.
While most other oyster farms stop their sales during the summer months, we at Harty Oysters continue to sell all year through – 52 weeks of the year.
One of the main reasons we can do this is our state-of-the-art nursery, which BIM (the Irish State Agency for fisheries) helped us create and develop. In essence, the nursery gives us greater control of our stock, quality, shape and size. With a diversified seed plan, we can meet year round demand and produce our famous deep-cupped shell.
We place the oysters into trays and put them in our Protos purification unit (specially built at our premises in Ring) where they are purified to Irish and international standards (generally, a 48 hours process). All water used on our farm is pumped straight from the sea and purified itself for 48 hours before the oyster purification process even begins. We use the latest technology in our purification process and all our oysters are washed, processed and packaged at our facility here in the beautiful Ring area close to Dungarvan town. All oysters are prepared to national and international HACAPP/ FSAI approved standards. Once the purification process is completed, the oysters are immediately placed in a cold storage area before they are transported to Dublin or Cork for international flights.
At Harty Oysters, we pride ourselves on running a progressive company that pairs an age-old natural product with the latest advancements in technology. We’re a family-run business with a commitment to expanding our operations, including our seed nursery and purification centre. We’re packing and shipping our oysters for the world market.
In 2012, our nursery produced 300,000 oysters – by 2014 it was 12 million oysters!
We plan to produce 15 to 20 million oysters in-house by 2016, becoming more self-sufficient and sustainable as we develop. In the future, we plan to have the capacity to produce up to 40 million Irish quality ‘speciale’ oysters per year, all grown from tiny seeds to being table ready in our crystal clear Celtic waters.
Taste one – it might just change your life!