If your morning commute takes you along the road between Fenit and The Spa, you're likely to have spotted the flotilla of colourful fishing boats working in Tralee Bay. October traditionally marks the start of the annual Fenit oyster season, a practice that has been a staple of Tralee Bay for hundreds of years with evidence to suggest that since the stone age there has been active oyster fishers in these areas. It is also worth noting that Tralee Bay is widely considered to be the last remaining natural, self-seeding oyster bed in Europe.
What's truly unique and admirable about the Fenit oyster fishing project is how it has been recovered and sustainably managed by the Tralee Bay Oyster Fisheries Society. Every September the stock in the bay is surveyed and from the findings that year's fishing quotas are decided. And whilst designing and implementing sustainability into any food or fishery supply chain is a complex business, the simplicity of Tralee Bay Oysters being harvested at a slightly larger size of 78mm is a key component of keeping the bay healthy with mature specimens. You can read all about the sustainability mission of Tralee Bay Oysters on their official website here.
As an experience for a non-fisher, for someone who holds a huge amount of curiosity for what this Co-Op is doing for the local community, we sent Karl out with his drone and some cameras to get a real sense of how the Fenit oyster community operates.
While many of the boats depart from Fenit Marina before sunrise, our 9am departure was sympathetic to the school run and a pit stop at Navo for a tray full of latté's. Aboard with Mary and the two Alan's, we put-putted our way up the bay towards Kilfenora saluting our fellow fishers along the way, shouting morning greetings across to friends and family.
Once in position the gathering of oysters is a process of dredging the floor of the bay with a motor driven metal basket which returns a net full of produce to the boat. The catch is then tipped on to a table which the fishers then quickly sort through by hand, using the regulated sizing ring of 78mm to ensure that only the correct size oyster remains on board. Protective gloves are worn as protection from the oysters sharp edges (which I'm reliably told can leave a razor like cut which stings for days), the correctly sized oysters are tossed into the buckets on the boat and the small ones go back overboard.
Each boat is governed by a maximum catch quota and once that's met, it's time to return to the marina - the whole fishing experience lasted about 3 hours.
Back on land the crates of oysters are moved to the Tralee Bay Oyster Co-Op processing building at Fenit Marina. Alan loads each container of catch into a sorting conveyor machine and once again at this point the oyster is checked for eligible size before bagging, loading onto pallets, wrapped and prepared for collection by refrigerated truck and off to mainland Europe via Rosslare.
This year the total catch quota for the Tralee Bay Oyster co-op has been governed at 140 tonnes and they expect to meet that quota in early November. It's quite remarkable that each and every oyster passes through the hands of the Fenit oyster community, no industrialised fishing practices here, just an honest and transparent graft that cultivates a renewable natural resource fit for the best restaurants in Europe.