Oysters not cultivated here

Liezl Solomons, a manager at the restaurant 34 Degrees South at the Knysna Waterfront, with a wild oyster. Solomons says their oyster sales skyrocket during the festival and even the kids love it. Photo: Ingrid Botha.

KNYSNA NEWS - A nasty rumour is doing the rounds that the Knysna Oyster Festival is a ‘farce’.
People say that festival-goers are being fooled each year in thinking that they are eating oysters harvested from the Knysna beds when in fact the oysters are being cultivated in and moved from Port Elizabeth.
According to the rumour, the reason for this is that the Knysna Estuary is too contaminated with E.coli, which would make oysters cultivated in its waters deadly to eat.
 But, as rumours usually go, only part of this tale is true. It is correct that most of the oysters sold during the annual festival are cultivated elsewhere, such as Saldanha Bay and Port Elizabeth, but this is purely for environmental reasons. The part about the water being too contaminated with nasty bacteria is completely false.
On Monday, June 29, both Nandi Mgwadlamba (media spokesperson for SANParks) and Chumisa Kalawe (spokesperson for the Knysna Municipality) firmly denied that the Knysna Estuary water was unsafe.
They said that the estuary's water was completely safe, but since August 2014, oyster farming had not been permitted in Knysna. Mgwadlamba said even though oyster farming could certainly have a positive economic and social impact on Knysna, it was detrimental to the Knysna Estuary.
“A risk assessment was conducted to assess the potential for permitting oyster farming in the Knysna Estuary. Objectives from the Garden Route National Park management plan were extracted and used in the analysis. The thirty objectives assessed were of an environmental, social and economic nature. The assessment produced a negative score. Despite the potential social and economic benefits which provided for positive points, the negative environmental impacts outweighed them.”
Mgwadlamba further said that the municipality as well as SANParks regularly checked the E.coli levels in local waters and the results have been well below the standards set by the Department of Water Affairs. She said that the Knysna Action Pollution Committee, which includes SANParks, Knysna Municipality, Eden District Health and the Knysna Basin Project, meets regularly to address water samples from the estuary as well as land0based pollution.
Mgwadlamba added that there were still wild oysters to harvest in the estuary, but that members of the public would need a permit from the Department of Forestry and Fisheries as well as the Department of Environmental Affairs to do so.
Liezl Solomons, a manager at the seafood restaurant 34 Degrees South, said that their oyster sales usually skyrocket during the annual Knysna Oyster Festival.
She said most diners preferred cultivated oysters to wild oysters, not only because they are cheaper, but also because they taste less “fishy”. “We sell almost double the amount of oysters during the festival. Even the kids love it, you must see how they eat it,” laughed Solomons.
Ruben Botha, owner of Sailor Sam Seafood, said he mainly sold cultivated oysters from Saldanha Bay where the temperature of the water is very cold. ”I find West Coast oysters are much tastier than those harvested from warmer waters,” he said.
The main distributor of cultivated oysters at the Knysna Oyster Festival Simon Burton, the general manager of Zwembesi Farms (part of the Knysna Oyster Company) in Port Elizabeth said that their record sales at a Knysna Oyster Festival was 140 000 oysters, but that this figure has dropped in recent years, “That was when we still had our own two restaurants in Knysna which moved more than half of these. Now the numbers have dropped off to less than 40 000, although some oysters do come in from other operations in Saldanha, so the total will be more,” he said.
Burton said that they used to cultivate the small oysters in Knysna and then hold them for a few months out at sea in Algoa Bay where they double in size and fatten up.
“When SANParks closed down our Knysna operations we had to find an alternative site for small oysters. We now cultivate the small ones in Oranjemund but still finish them off out at sea in Algoa Bay,” he said.
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