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Oyster Dredging

Oyster Dredging on the Fal River – Aerial Filming

This week we were working with Folk Films for an upcoming BBC documentary about fishermen in Cornwall.   Folk films were following Justin, a local oyster dredge fisherman who lives near Coombe, in the upper reaches of the Fal River.

Check back here soon for more information.

History of Oyster Dredging

For over a century, Cornish families have derived their livelihood from oyster dredging in the Carrick Roads and surrounding rivers. Many of the oyster boats, known as Falmouth Working Boats were built at boatyards around the Fal, with some of the oldest boats in the Oyster Fishery dating back as far as 1860.

Governed by ancient laws that were put in place to protect the natural ecology of the riverbeds and oyster stocks, oystermen fishing in the Port of Truro Oyster Fishery are prohibited from using engines. Instead, sail power and hand-pulled dredges must be used. This is the only oyster fishery in Europe, if not the world, where such traditional methods must be used. Falmouth Oyster Festival celebrates the start of the oyster season, which runs from October to March.

The Working Boats range in size from 22ft to 30ft and have the original gaff cutter rig. The oyster beds, or lays, are marked by sticks, or ‘withies’, that protrude from the water. The fishermen rely on the tides, wind, their skill, and local knowledge of the fishing waters to dredge for oysters. Once caught, the oysters are purified for 36 hours before being sold. Some oysters are returned to beds to fatten, and can be sold after the close of the oyster season.

During the summer months, the Working Boats may be seen racing in the Carrick Roads, and at many regattas in the county. The racing rig is far larger than the rig used for fishing, and these gracious vessels create a truly magnificent spectacle as they race at close quarters under full sail. The Oyster Working Boat Race is an integral part of Falmouth Oyster Festival and is one of the last races of the season for many Working Boats.

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