Oysters production processes
Amadou Jallow Daily Observer.

The word oyster, is used as a common name for a number of distinct groups of bivalve molluscs, which live in marine or brackish habitats. The valves are highly calcified. Some kinds of oyster are commonly consumed by humans, cooked or eaten raw. Other kinds, such as pearl oysters, are not edible.

In The Gambia, many women are now engaged in the production of this water resource, specifically from mangrove swamp areas. It has been a favourable choice of many people because of the demand arising from the need of Oyster. Many of these women who produce it, have been organising themselves into associations, and receiving assistance from humanitarian organisations.

The “Ba Nafaa” project in The Gambia, is one of the organisations that is supporting women in oyster production; the support include equipment and training packages. Work involve in Oyster production could be tedious and risky from the time of getting them from the mangroves to the time they reach the market.  True oysters are members of the family, Ostreidae. This family includes the edible oysters, which belong mainly to the genera Ostrea, Crassostrea, Ostreola and Saccostrea. Women dominate the production of Oyster in The Gambia.

As keystone species, oysters provide habitat for many marine species. They are harvested by simply gathering them from their beds that are attached to the mangroves. In very shallow waters, they can be gathered by hand or with small rakes. In some deeper waters, long-handled rakes or oyster tongs are used to reach the beds. Patent tongs can be lowered on a line to reach beds that are too deep to reach directly. In all cases, the task is the same. The oysterman or woman scrapes oysters into a pile, and then scoops them up with the rake or tongs.

In some areas, a scallop dredge is used. This is a toothed bar attached to a chain bag. The dredge is towed through an oyster bed by a boat, picking up the oysters in its path. While dredges collect oysters more quickly, they heavily damage the beds, and their use is highly restricted. Oysters have been in existence for well over a century. Harvesting involves simply lifting the bags or rack to the surface and removing the mature oysters. However, Oysters are low in food energy; one dozen raw oysters contain approximately 110 kilocalories (460 kJ), and are rich in zinc, iron, calcium, and vitamin A.

Unlike most shellfish, oysters can have a fairly long life span for two weeks; however, their “decreasingly pleasant” taste reflects their age. Oysters should be refrigerated out of water, not frozen and in 100 per cent humidity. Oysters stored in water under refrigeration will open, consume available oxygen and die. Care should be taken when consuming oysters. Purists insist on eating them raw with no dressing, serve perhaps lemon juice, vinegar (most commonly shallot vinegar), or cocktail sauce. Upscale restaurants prefer raw oysters with a home-made mignonette sauce, which consists primarily of fresh chopped shallot, mixed peppercorn, dry white wine and lemon juice or sherry vinegar.

Like fine wine, raw oysters have complex flavours that vary greatly among varieties and regions, sweet, salty, earthy, or even melon. The texture is soft and fleshy, but crisp on the plate. It was once assumed that oysters were only safe to eat in months with the letter ‘r’ in their English and French names. This is a myth whose basis in truth is that in the northern hemisphere, oysters are much more likely to spoil in May, June, July, and August. The shells of live oysters are normally tightly- closed or snap shut given a slight tap. If the shell is opened, the oyster is dead, and cannot be eaten safely.

Cooking oysters in the shell kills the oysters and causes them to open by themselves. Oysters that do not open are dead before cooking and are unsafe for human consumption. Oysters can contain harmful bacteria. They are filter feeders and will naturally concentrate anything present in the surrounding water. Oysters are sometimes cited as an aphrodisiac. It is disputed however, whether this is true.

Fresh oysters must be alive just before consumption or cooking. There is a simple criterion; the oyster must be capable of tightly closing its shell. Opened oysters should be tapped on the shell: a live one will close up and is safe to eat. Oysters that are opened and unresponsive are dead and must be discarded. Some dead oysters, or oyster shells that are full of sand may be closed. These make a distinctive noise when tapped, and are known as clackers.

While technically an animal, the oyster is considered by some ethicists to be an appropriate food choice for vegans and vegetarians, arguing that it is adequate to eat oysters, because in the relevant ethical terms, they are rather closer to plants than animals. Two common ethical objections to the consumption of animals is that they feel pain (and that causing pain is wrong), and that their cultivation is environmentally harmful. On both of these, oysters are significantly closer to plants than animals. Regarding pain, oysters lack a central nervous system, and are not believed to experience pain in the same way as humans do, with them and other bivalves being closer to mobile plants than to plant perception.


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