Knysna has long been synonymous with oysters, since 1946 in fact. This is when the first experiments into cultivating oysters on the West Coast began. In 1948, the Knysna Oyster Company, a joint venture between the Fisheries Development Corporation and Thesen & Cowas formed and oysters were on their way to becoming one of the many attractions of this touristic town.
The first oyster beds were made of roofing tiles and the company’s first employee, a Dutch farmer, began trying out different strains of oysters imported from Portugal, Australia and Britain. He met with minor success until he tried the Pacific Oyster or Crassostreagigas. This species turned out to flourish in the waters of the Estuary, matured quickly and soon became a favourite in South Africa. Today the Knysna Oyster company farms four hectares of the Estuary.
Spats, or oyster larvae, are imported from France and Chile at the age of three months, and are placed in an oyster nursery in Algoa Bay. Here they are sheltered in fine mesh bags in the intertidal zone where they experience conditions perfect for their growth and well-being.
Once they have outgrown the nursery, the oysters are relocated to the Knysna Estuary for further mollycoddling until harvest time when they are devoured with relish.
Another, some say more delicious variety of oyster is Crassostreamargaritacea, the indigenous wild oysters found all along the West Coast. Naturally, a licence is needed to harvest them, and they can be a handful to open, but the rewards are a large fleshy treat best enjoyed raw with black pepper and lemon juice.
Oysters are at their best during winter, when their flesh is still plump, sweetish and clear, and smacks of the sea. This is when Knysna hosts the Oyster Festival which attracts visitors from all over the world to sample its ocean wares and to participate in the many sporting activities and events which take place during this time. The Oyster Festival showcases all the best qualities of the oyster with celebrity chefs whipping up designer dishes and restaurants trying to outdo each other in their offerings of this popular little shellfish.