The history and status of oyster exploitation and culture in South Africa

23 May 2011

Both wild and cultivated oysters are consumed in South Africa. Edible wild oysters include Striostrea margaritacea, Saccostrea cucullata, Ostrea atherstonei, and O. algoensis, all of which occur along the south and east coasts, but not on the west coast. Wild oysters are exploited commercially, recrcationally, and by subsistence fishers, with S. margaritacea being by far the most intensively targeted species. Commercial harvesting of S. margaritacea takes place along the southern Cape coast and in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), with the southern Cape hosting 102 of the 145 commercial pickers. Data on total annual commercial catch of oysters in the various harvesting areas are presented, but these are minimum estimates, because collectors do not always comply with harvesting regulations or fully report catches. Subsistence harvesting remains largely unmanagcd, except in KZN, and is particularly prevalent in the eastern Cape Province. The culture of oysters is dependent on imported Crassostrea gigas spat, mostly from Chile. Accurate annual oyster production statistics arc only available since 1985, although approximately 2 million C. gigas oysters are known to have been cultured annually throughout the 1970s and early '80s. Since then, production increased steadily from 1985 to 1991, peaking at some 8 million individuals, then declined to 2–4 million individuals from the mid 1990s onward. Although the market for oysters has grown, production has not kept up with demand, largely because of a lack of suitable locations for oyster culture. Finding suitable sites for cultivation along the northern Cape Province coast and establishing local oyster hatcheries for C. gigas are suggested as future priorities for the industry.