Colchester/Mersea: MP continues campaign to protect Colchester’s Native Oyster

The 2007 Colchester oyster feast, Colchester town hall.; What it's all about a plate of oysters.; An

The 2007 Colchester oyster feast, Colchester town hall.; What it's all about a plate of oysters.; Andrew Partridge; Friday 26/10/07 - Credit: Archant

Colchester’s MP has pledged to continue the fight to secure protected status for the oyster that bears the town’s name.

Fishermen from West Mersea have been campaigning for a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for the Colchester Native oyster for almost a decade but in recent years their application seems to have stalled.

The Colchester Native - ostrea edulis - is regarded as a delicacy worldwide, thanks to its size, shape and special flavour. It differs from the more common rock oyster in that it has a meatier texture and saltier taste.

A PGI listing would give the mollusc the same protected status as Melton Mowbray pork pies and Newmarket sausages, which can only be labelled with the brand if they are produced in its declared geographical area.

Town MP Sir Bob Russell recently questioned Richard Benyon, a minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), in parliament about the oyster’s progress towards the marque and was told fishermen had failed to respond to objections made during the consultation process in 2005.

Mr Kenyon added: “As a result, no further progress has been made with this application. The PGI scheme is a voluntary one and so it is for the producers to decide whether they wish to pursue the application.”

But operations director at the Colchester Oyster Fishery, Graham Larkin, said he thought the application was in order that he and other producers were waiting on a response from DEFRA.

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Sir Bob said: “There seems to be some confusion around this issue and in the light of Mr Kenyon’s answer I will be taking it up to see if we can move forward. It is important we get recognition for a local product that is part of Colchester’s heritage as far back as Roman times when the oysters were shipped across to Rome.”

According to Mr Larkin, unscrupulous vendors have tried to pass off other oysters as Colchester Natives.

He said: “We do come across people trying to sell flat oysters, which have come from around the country, as Native oysters, which technically only come from the Thames Estuary waters near Colchester.

“They tend to be saltier and slightly more green than most oysters and should be protected because they are part of our regional identity. Increasingly, there is demand from consumers to know exactly where their seafood has come from.”

Mr Larkin said each year his company harvested over three million wild Colchester Native oysters from the seabeds around Mersea Island and sent them to more than 400 restaurants in the UK, as well as a host of destinations abroad.

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