Starting in May 2014, a team led by Olivier Guerlorget, who also serves as aquaculture advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries introduced oyster spats to a site in the marina in batches of 10,000 every three months, selecting over time for traits such as vitality, shape morphology, and shell/meat ratio. According to Guerlorget, the oysters had an extremely low mortality rate, compared to oysters grown in Europe.
“Slowly, I worked to increase the quality and sustainability of these oysters in a tropical environment by genetic selection. Slowly these spats grew, and I was very surprised because there was no mortality. Normally, in France, mortality is around 60-65% in the juvenile phase. Here, we had less than 1%,” he said.
‘The environment is wonderful’
Guerlorget explained that while commercial oysters are normally thought of as a cold-water species, the waters around Oman are highly suited to she shellfish: “There is no mortality, because first, the environment is wonderful. There’s no climate change – oysters are very sensitive to thermic variations. In Europe, when the water falls below 8C, the oysters don’t grow – so you have many months where they are not growing. There is also great variation in sunlight, and in food.
“Oysters are feeder filters, and mainly eat plankton. During the many cold months of the winter season, they don’t have any food – but here, all throughout the year, there is high quality food,” he added, saying the limestone geology of Oman also means the waters are rich in carbonates, giving the oysters everything they need to grow a healthy shell.
Oman oysters win blind test
The next developmental steps for the oysters, which are cultivated on a 100m long-line, will be to improve the quality of the shell through further rounds of selection. But Guerlorget says he is already very happy with the overall quality of the oysters – so much so that he was confident enough to organise a blind tasting with some of Oman’s top chefs.
“I organised a meeting with the French chefs from some international hotels – Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental, Hyatt and others – and put on the table some famous French oysters, and then my oysters, with a small spot on the shell. Believe me – 95% of the most appreciated oysters were the Omani oysters,” said Guerlorget.
In the longer term, Almouj Marina hopes to obtain protected-origin status for the oysters, and position them as a premium oyster brand. Guerlorget says he is also in the process of developing aquaculture projects for scallops and seaweed, which he believes could see similar success to the oysters.