Farmers visit Australia for oyster tips

JIJI

Oyster farmers from across Japan recently traveled to Tasmania, Australia, to learn how cultivators there raise oysters that are relatively uniform in size, and that can be sold in their shells at higher prices.

Japanese consumers have traditionally used oysters as an ingredient of the winter “nabe” hot pot dish. The shell’s size and appearance isn’t significant, as the meat is usually removed at the farm before shipping.

But as the number of oyster bars increases, demand is rising for oysters in their shells.

In Australia, more than 90 percent of demand is for oysters in their shells, and local farmers have developed techniques to serve that market.

Tasmania oyster farmers have maintained close ties with their Japanese counterparts because the industry there began after World War II with import of Pacific oysters from Miyagi, Hiroshima and Kumamoto prefectures, said a senior official of the Tasmania state government.

Japanese cultivators tend to farm juvenile wild oysters attached to collectors strung on wires, a method that tends to produce oysters that vary widely in size and meat content.

In Australia, juvenile oysters are farmed in baskets, and the work of sorting them is automated. Production costs are slightly higher, but the oysters are of uniform size and their shells look more attractive.

“I want to tackle the challenge of trying a new technique and producing value-added oysters,” said Katsuyuki Oyama, who heads a company of oyster producers in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.