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    Oyster farming    





    Distant pass    

The ancestor of the oyster appeared at the secondary era, about 190 million years ago. A hundred species of oysters remains today, living in most of the seas and oceans.

Prehistory and Antiquity  

At the Neolithic era, humans used to fish. Everywhere we found remnants of cooking, we found large quantities of oyster’s shells.

In China, oysters are cultivated since ancient times. Since ever, bamboos are cut and put at sea so that oyster larvae fix on them.

The Romans were great lovers of oysters. It was discovered in the texts of Pliny the Elder that they had already noticed that “oysters are better in some places than others”. When Gaul was conquered, the Romans imported oysters from Brittany.

Next to most of the Roman villas we found piles and piles of oyster shells. There were pools with sea water everywhere in Gaul (Clermont, Poitier, Saintes, Jarnac…) on the roads of oysters which were intended to store the shellfishes when they travelled to Rome.




In 1698, John LISTER from England was surprised by the technique used by the French to bring fresh oysters in Paris: oysters are removed from their shells and are stacked in baskets of straw, so they arrive ready to be put in stews.

At the time of Voltaire, oysters were less for food than for aperitif, so it was not uncommon in the banquets to serve ten or twelve dozen for each guest as a "mise en bouche"…



Déjeuner aux huîtres  

Déjeuner aux huîtres
JF de Troy 1727 (Musée Condé, Chantilly)



Birth of modern oyster farming  

The wild oysters were extremely abundant on French shores, especially on the coast of the North Sea and the Channel. Over time, oyster farming was forgotten and people simply fished wild oysters. Oyster beds seemed inexhaustible to such an extent that an order of the king in 1726 to protect coastal resources, forbade any kind of fishing tool except for oyster fishing.

Extensive exploitation of oyster beds resulted in the depletion of the mollusc and in the eighteenth century, royal authority had, for the first time, to punish abuses.

For a long time, oysters were simply fished from the natural beds and then stocked over the foreshore (uncovered by the sea at low tide). St-Vaast la Hougue was one of those sites where oysters were stored. In 1820, following an intense cold, a fisher lost almost all the oysters he had parked. When he wanted to get rid of the empty shells of his dead oysters, he noticed they were covered with small oysters: he had rediscovered oyster breeding.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, fishing decreased at the same time as the oyster beds dwindled. Meanwhile oyster farming was growing.

Until 1963, the breeding of oysters in St-Vaast was on the floor. The oysters were thrown on the floor and then raked to pull them out of the sand. New techniques have allowed a substantial extension of oyster farming. The use of plastic pockets put onto iron frames was imported from Japan where it was known since the 30's.

Throughout the last century, there were several attempts to create new production centres in Normandy, but it is in fact in the early 70's that there was a boom in this activity.
Today Normandy is the first oyster-producing region in France.





  Origin of the word    

In ancient Greece, especially in Athens, some votes were done using oyster shells. The term ostracism comes from the Greek word ostreon, related to osteon ‘bone’ and ostrakon, ‘shell or tile’. However the word oyster comes from the Latin word ostrea, which became oistre in Old French and then oyster in English.





  La mangeuse d'huîtres    

La mangeuse d'huîtres
Jan Steen (1625-1679)






Oyster is a favourite subject for painting especially in Flemish and Dutch art of the Golden Age. By its physical appearance but also by the connotations associated with it: hermetism and hidden complexity, intimacy, pleasure and even eroticism. Oysters in paintings may suggest the senses and the erotic tension.