Ceremony marks start of oyster dredging

THE beginning of the oyster fishery season was marked in traditional fashion yesterday by Colchester's civic dignitaries. The annual gin and gingerbread ceremony took place on the Hydrogen sailing barge in the Pyefleet Channel, off Mersea Island, marking the first oyster dredge of the season.

THE beginning of the oyster fishery season was marked in traditional fashion yesterday by Colchester's civic dignitaries.

The annual gin and gingerbread ceremony took place on the Hydrogen sailing barge in the Pyefleet Channel, off Mersea Island, marking the first oyster dredge of the season.

Colchester Borough Council's ownership of the fishery dates back to the Charter of 1189 and the traditional opening ceremony dates back to 1540.

The Mayor of Colchester, Terry Sutton, council chief executive Adrian Pritchard and Town Serjean Richard Buckle, all decked out in full regalia, play a key part in the traditional ceremony.


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It was formally witnessed by about 40 guests who, following the ceremony, enjoyed an oyster lunch on board.

The proclamation, an ancient tongue-twister, was read by Mr Pritchard to officially declare the fishery open for the season. The mayor then raised the loyal toast to the Queen, accompanied by drinking gin and eating gingerbread, before the first dredge of oysters was made.

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As part of the tradition, a telemessage was sent to the Queen at Balmoral Castle stating: “According to ancient custom and charter dating back to Norman times, the mayor and councillors of the Colchester Borough Council will formally proclaim the opening of the Colne Oyster Fishery for the coming season and will drink to your Majesty's long life and health and request respectfully to offer to your Majesty their expressions of dutiful loyalty and devotion.”

The Queen usually returns her thanks for the good wishes.

Colchester Natives are known in restaurants across the globe as one of the finest oysters available. The quality is thought to derive from the special blend of nutrients found in the marshy creeks off Mersea Island where they can be laid for fattening for up to five years.

The East Anglian Daily Times is backing Mersea oyster growers in their campaign to obtain a Protected Geographical Indicator from the EU for the Colchester Native. This would mean only those oysters grown within the Colchester borough would be able to bear its name.

Yesterday's meal on board the barge consisted of oysters and other seafood dishes. The speaker was Lord Andrew Phillips of Sudbury.

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