The oyster fishery in the Truro River and Fal Estuary is unique as a local regulatory order passed in 1863 banned the use of engines and winches, meaning the traditional sail and oar powered fishery has survived. 28 foot gaff-rigged sailing boats known as Falmouth Working Boats are used to pull lightweight dredges over the oyster beds as the boats slowly drift downwind. One or two men can work from the boat, and each man works two dredges which are deployed and pulled up by hand. It is exhausting work and the natural inefficiency of this method has preserved oyster stocks and sustained it for over 200 years. There is a minimum landing size for Fal oysters measured using a circular brass oyster gauge. If the oyster hangs in the gauge (is too large to pass through) it is kept. Undersized oysters can be thrown back over the side unharmed.
On calm days with light winds the oystermen use oar powered rowing punts to fish for oysters. A single lightweight steel framed dredgie is dropped over the sde and then pulled along by the action of the fisherman hauling in a long anchor line using a gurdy (hand operated winch).
There is a closed season for oyster fishing during the summer months to allow the oysters to reproduce and to allow the oyster spat to colonise and grow before the next season starts. Fishing is only allowed between the hours of 9am and 3pm on weekdays and 9am and 12pm on a Saturday. No fishing is allowed on a Sunday.
Due to the unique management of the fishery and the distinctively different taste of Fal oysters (possibly due to minerals from the surrounding mined catchment area) the Fal oyster now has EU protected geographic status for designation of origin.
Want to find out more? The following scientific papers give more detail on the impact of sail and oar fishing: