11am – 11pm 10-13th October 2019

Back in October 2009 Chris ‘Ranger’ had started his second season gathering wild Cornish Native Oysters aboard his Truro River Oyster Boat the ‘Alf Smythers’, he had also spent the summer setting up a purification centre, which he named ‘Cornish Native Oysters’, on the edge of the Fal Fishery at Mylor Yacht Harbour.

With his first batch of depurated native oysters packed and ready he set off to the Falmouth Oyster Festival to see if he could be part of one of the biggest food festival attractions in the South West. Unfortunately he was unable to participate as the festival is supplied by one supplier alone, however, all was not lost as he was stood beside the manager of a local public house and Matt invited him to bring his boxes of oysters to The Front on Custom House Quay.

This was the start of a great friendship and perfect pairing between the local shellfish and the local ales including Skinners Pennycomequick, served from the vaulted ex Custom House overlooking the boundary of the fishery. The ‘Pop Up Gatherings’ have become known as the ‘Oyster Wink’ as a reference to the old ‘Kiddlywinks’, which were licenced by Customs and Excise, rather than the Taverns and Inns that were licenced by the Magistrate’s after the 1830 beer act.

 In 2018 at the 10th consecutive ‘Oyster Wink’ Ranger invited a friend from London called Bobby Groves, Bobby was touring Britain and Ireland on a Triumph Bonneville motorbike and in search of all the oyster fisheries, farmers and shacks dotted around the coastline. He travelled 5,000 miles in all weathers and has written a whole chapter about the storm he rode through on his trip to Falmouth in his newly published book “Oyster Isles”. Bobby competed in the inaugural ‘Cornish Native Oyster Opening Championships’, which was hosted by Ranger and inspired by the rules set out and his entry in the ‘Tabasco British Oyster Opening Championships’ in London in September.

The ‘Pop Up Gatherings’ have evolved over the past 10 years to include an annual end of season celebration, know as the ‘Oyster Gatherings’ that started in 2010 at Mylor Yacht Harbour and went on to Flushing Quay, Prince of Wales Pier and even popped up outside The Front on Custom House Quay. The unique turquoise shipping container restaurant & oyster bar has been seen at Rock Oyster Festival, Truro Piazza and has spent two summers as resident caterer at Carlyon Beach. The biggest pop up was without doubt the Port Elliot Festival and Festival Number 6 at Portmerion in North Wales in 2017.

So in 2019 what can you expect from the 10 year celebrations, well there will be a raw bar inside The Front and weather permitting a cooked oyster bar outside.

Ranger says “with the Falmouth Oyster Festival so early in the season we have had to look at other species such as the invasive Pacific Oysters and Queen Scallops to ensure we have enough shellfish to show off, we have also partnered up with ‘The Cornish Shellfish Company’ who are the only other PDO verified depuration company. We have recently incorporated the ‘Fal Fishery Cooperative CIC (Community Interest Company)’ to address the density of the last truly British indigenous native oyster stocks that are on the Fal Fishery, which are so low there are fears that the density would make successful reproduction incredibly difficult.

The CIC aims to develop a restocking, repopulation and recognition project with the Universities of Exeter and Bangor and the National Lobster Hatchery. We are currently raising some small funds to support the start up costs but the CIC with the help from Marine i has applied for £350,000 grant funds, £100,000 for aquaculture infrastructure for a new storage and growth facility, plus £250,000 towards a scientific research facility that will be looking at the growth, maturity and fecundity of the resident stocks. The project will create 5 full time jobs on the fishery and a senior lecturer wrote to me saying he will “set up an MSc course based on my project”, which is a huge accolade for me and I will be looking at doing the course myself”

Things to look out for during the 4 day celebrations at The Front include the pairing of oysters with the truly vast range of great Cornish ales and spirits, the opportunity to try the invasive oysters cooked and served in many ways, the chance to indulge in the newest species to appear on the fishery the Queen Scallop, to watch contestants shuck it out at the ‘2nd Cornish Native Oyster Opening Championships’ with some Tabasco Prizes on Saturday evening at 6pm in aid of Fisherman’s Mission and finally you can view the fleet in the annual Falmouth Working Boat Oyster Festival Harbour Race on Sunday at 11am from the end of Custom House Quay.

Finally a date for your 2020 diary is the ‘last weekend of March’ where Steve Skinner has invited the ‘Pop Up Gatherings’ crew, which includes the sushi masters from Dinings in Harcourt Street London, to host its 10 years of ‘Oyster Gatherings’ at the Old Ale House in Truro, expect a culinary feast showcasing Cornwall best fish and shellfish!