Bluff oyster season splits for RWC 2011
03 May 2011
Bluff Oyster and food festival
21 May, 2011
Mouths are watering in anticipation of the annual Bluff Oyster & Food Festival celebrating the seasonal harvest of the succulent shellfish that have made New Zealand’s most southern town world famous.
Bluff oysters are reputed to be the most flavoursome in the world - slowly grown in the cold, clean waters of Foveaux Strait until they are large, plump and juicy.
While the rare delicacy is the central focus of the annual festival in Bluff, at the southern-most point of the South Island, associated oyster-related activities and other local specialties have made the event one of the highlights of New Zealand’s food and wine festival calendar.
Rugby World Cup oysters
For the first time ever, the Bluff oyster season will be split in two - because of the Rugby World Cup which New Zealand will host in September and October.
A portion of the main season quota will be harvested, then put into growing tanks to mature in time for RWC 2011 visitors.
Southland will be the only place the oysters will be available which is good news for players and supporters of the Scotland and Argentina teams who will play matches in Invercargill.
2011 oyster festival
The 2011 Bluff Oyster & Food festival on 21 May promises some hardy favourites like oyster eating and opening competitions - which require specialist skills, especially during the blindfolded section - and organisers have a surprise event, yet to be revealed, which they say is sure to entertain.
In 2010 more than 20,000 oysters were consumed during the one-day festival and the 2011 season, which opened at the beginning of March, is again providing a bumper crop of the popular delicacy.
The surrounding waters of Bluff in Foveaux Strait are a rich fishing ground and as well as oysters, there’ll be a variety of local seafood treats on the festival menu.
Apart from feasting on seafood, festival goers can enjoy local wines, live music and a unique oyster sack fashion parade.
Background: Bluff oysters
New Zealand’s official oyster harvesting season runs from March until June or July - depending on when the yearly quota is reached.
The oysters are dredged by Bluff’s special fleet of oyster boats, and the season is keenly anticipated by restaurants and markets throughout New Zealand.
Some say that Bluff oysters are the finest in the world because they are grown slowly in the cold clean waters of Foveaux Strait - the stretch of water between the southern-most point of the South Island and Stewart Island - the largest offshore island of New Zealand.
Oystering first began commercially at Stewart Island in the 1860s when supplies were so plentiful oysters were simply shovelled onto coastal cutters at low tide and taken to the mainland.
Demand was so high that within a few years the beds were exhausted and the harvest closed in 1877. Two years later new, larger oyster beds were discovered in deeper water and the centre of activity gradually shifted from Stewart Island to Bluff.
An outbreak of the parasite bonamia put a stop to the oyster harvest in 1991, and when it reopened in 1994 oyster fishermen voluntarily reduced their catch to allow regeneration. It has paid off - 2010 was a bumper harvest, and 2011 promises to be the same.
When oystering first began it was a race to get the first oysters back to the wharf. Today some boats are met by helicopters which whisk the oysters away to be distributed throughout the country.
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