EADT backs oyster campaign

By Roddy Ashworth and Brian FarmerTHE East Anglian Daily Times is backing a campaign to support one of Essex's most famous exports - the Colchester Native oyster.

By Roddy Ashworth and Brian Farmer

THE East Anglian Daily Times is backing a campaign to support one of Essex's most famous exports - the Colchester Native oyster.

The EADT is supporting the county's oyster growers in their attempt to gain a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for the Colchester Native.

If granted by the European Union, that would mean only oysters produced in waters off the Colchester area would be able to bear the borough's name.

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 sweeter taste.

Now oyster growers from West Mersea are trying to have the Colchester Native designated a regional speciality to help promote its image in the UK.

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They also want to make sure unscrupulous vendors will be unable to pass off other oysters as Colchester Natives, something they feared could threaten the reputation of the delicacy.

If successful, their application for a PGI would give the shellfish the same protected status as Newcastle Brown Ale and Jersey Royal potatoes, which can only labelled as such if produced in its declared geographical area.

Growers collect oysters from the sea bed then move them to the creeks around Colchester, where the waters are rich in nutrients, to allow them to grow.

Colchester Native oysters are popular in London's top restaurants and sell for about £30 a dozen.

Michael Dawson, one of the Mersea Island oyster growers behind the move, said: “At the moment anyone can call their oysters Colchester Natives and it is difficult for us to stop that.

“If we can gain this protected status, it will make it easier for us to ensure that only oysters grown in the waters around here can be called Colchester Natives.”

He added: “Oysters have been grown in these waters for hundreds of years - it's thought that the Romans might have grown them.

“They sell well in London restaurants and we know Kylie Minogue, among other stars, is keen on them. I would say about 800,000 a year are produced in these waters.”

EADT editor, Terry Hunt, said: “We've got a great chance to put the Colchester oyster on the culinary map of the world. It really is something to be proud of and we're delighted to put our weight behind the campaign.”

Colchester Borough Council leader, Colin Sykes, said: “Colchester Natives are gorgeous. I have tasted oysters from various parts of the UK and France and Colchester Natives are certainly more than a bit special.

“They hold the borough's name, and so I think it is reasonable for someone to expect that Colchester natives are from Colchester. You wouldn't expect Parma ham to come from Argentina. I fully support the campaign.”

Colchester mayor Chris Hall gave his backing to the campaign. “For too long we have hidden our light under a bushel. The oyster is one of the prides of Colchester and I think it should be promoted as such,” he added.

Colchester MP Bob Russell - who, as borough mayor in 1986 officiated at the annual opening of the oyster fisheries - said he supported the campaign.

“We are not just talking about an issue today, we are talking about a living history,” he added.

“The oysters are still farmed and harvested in the same place the Romans farmed and harvested them 2,000 years ago.”

North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin, in whose constituency the oyster beds lie, said: “I think it's a brilliant campaign. If the Romans understood what a Colchester Native was, then so can Brussels.”

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