Dredging with Slyvester and Alfie
Here at the Colchester Oyster Fishery, we grow and harvest our own oysters from the rivers and creeks surrounding the Fishery in East Mersea. We have two methods of harvesting, dredging and hand picking, depending on the tide. If the tide is low then the boys have no option but to go out hand picking but when the tide is up is off on Alexandra to go dredging.
When the boat is out in the oyster lanes, then the dredge is lowered into the water and is gently pulled along the seabed to collect the oysters into what is a really a large heavy net.
When Slyvester thinks the dredge is full, it is pulled up out of the river and the contents dropped onto the sorting table at the rear of the boat, where Slyvester and Alfie sort through the catch putting the oysters that are the right sizes into crates ready to take to the Fishery.
The oysters that are too small or too large are put back into the water. We have picked up lots of things other than oysters in the dredge from old pottery to unexploded bombs; that was an interesting day on the river! As you can see from the pictures, we do a lot of the work by hand, using the same methods that oystermen have been using for hundreds of years. Although, today most of the heavy lifting is done by the boat not the boys.
Another thing to note from these pictures is that we don't keep our oysters in cages, which is the popular method on the continent and for some oyster fisheries in the UK too. Our oysters roam about on the sea bed where they have ample room to grow and spat.
Once the boat is full, it's back to the Fishery where the oysters are unloaded and handed over to Tiny, who is in charge of the Oyster Room, for the next stage of their journey.