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Monday, July 11, 2011

Oyster beds

Last August I visited the oyster beds of Arcachon with Francis and Frédéric Dubourg. You can read those posts here. and here.

Last week Patrice and I returned to the Arcachon oyster beds and we were lucky to spend two more days on the boat with Frédéric as he further explained the intricacies of oyster farming.

You will recall that oysters lay millions of microscopic eggs once the water reaches a temperature of ~23 degrees C. The larvae then spend about two weeks swimming freely - at the end of which time they must attach to a surface in order to grow a shell. Last summer, Frederic distributed 1800 tiles in an area protected from winter storms - hoping to return this year to find that the oysters have attached and grown to the size of a quarter. A few days ago, he recovered a few hundred tiles, and scraped off the layer with the year-old oysters. Here's what they look like now.

Next step: distribute the baby oysters into a different area where they will grow for another year.

It's a labor intensive process. The oysters grow more quickly when they grow directly on the sea bed, but they must have plenty of space, plenty of oxygen, and plenty of food. Frederic does this by raking the soil, but with primitive machines such as this,

and the old fashioned way like this:

Furthermore, Frederic alternates the oysters between different beds - much the same way that a farmer will rotate crops - in order to find the perfect growing conditions for his free range oysters. The Dubourg family is the last of the oyster growers raising oysters directly on the sea bed. It's a labor of love, and the oysters honestly taste fresher having spent their lives submerged in the waters of the Arcachon basin rather than being bunched together in bags which are out of the water for longer periods of time.

Frederic works almost entirely alone in the oyster beds - doing the back breaking work of seeding, spreading, sorting, raking, tending, repairing, gathering, sorting, bundling, and shipping the precious cargo directly to the Cabane a Huitres in Paris. That's where Francis takes over - greeting and serving the customers, sometimes shucking 60 dozen oysters in a single day. The entire production of Dubourg oysters is consumed at the Cabane in Paris. Direct from the water to the table within 24 hours.

Heading back to port - Théo, Frédéric's son, Frédéric, and Patrice. Maybe Théo will take over from his dad - making him the sixth generation?


  1. Fascinating! Thanks so much for this post, so much easier to understand with the photos. Hello to you and Patrice!

  2. For me oyster farming is absolutly unknown so I found all this very interesting. You also make it very clear and charming. Thank you Lydia