History of the Company
Roman writers tell us that the English Oysters were highly prized, so we can assume that the Whitstable Fishery existed even before those times. The fisherman discovered that by relaying wild oysters onto beds close to the shore they could build up the stocks and produce a better product. however, it was a constant battle to prevent marauders stealing from these beds.
In 1574 Queen Elizabeth I signed a -letters patent- granting these local beds to Thomas Henage and others who in turn leased them to the local fisherman. This then gave them clear legal right to protect the grounds (which can easily be damaged by dredges) and ownership of all shellfish thereon. Eventually the land by inheritance came down to Lord Bollingbrooke who sold it to the Free Fishers and Dredgers in 1792. This Company was re-constituted and became the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company in 1896 by an act of Parliament and the freehold beds were transferred at the same time, as shown on the map. Oyster production declined after the War due to chemical pollution, disease and bad winters combined with lack of investment. By 1978 the company was in a desperate position with assets barely covering it liabilities. In that year John Knight and Barrie Green Bought the controlling interest from Mr Jones the previous Chairman. At that time there was only one part time dredger man left selling a few dozen oysters wholesale per week. Now 30 years later, the next generation of Knights and Greens run a successful business employing over 100 people. Oyster production slowly but surely is improving under skipper Andy Riches and the Oyster dredger boat Misty which you can see moored in the Whitstable Harbour.
Currently experimental attempts to grow clams are proving successful. the Wild Native Oysters, whilst not numerous, are of excellent quality. The cultivated Gigas Oyster due to recent warmer winters is self seeding on our beds and again is of a fantastic quality.
What of the future? The Seasalter Shellfish Company under John Bayes has built a new system for producing Baby Native Whitstable Oysters at nearby by Reculver. If he is successful, the native Whitstable Oyster production could increase dramatically in the next few years.
"Oysters grow deliciously fat on sea water alone and are so environmentally friendly you can almost feel that it is a moral duty to include them in your diet"...............Barrie Green