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FOOD Achill seafood festival celebrates oysters and more

Croagh Patrick Seafoods’ oyster farm at Kilmeena.

‘Super foods’ at Achill  seafood festival

Marine Life
John Paul Tiernan

Féile Bia na Mara
Part 2

Féile Bia na Mara, which takes place in Achill from July 14 to 17, is a festival celebrating the remarkable food that the seas around Mayo produce. Two weeks ago I discussed one of the valuable local seafoods due to be feted – seaweed. Another food certainly worthy of celebration in Mayo is the oyster, which fittingly enough, is the showpiece of the opening night of the festival around the island.

Achill is your oyster

Bringing seafood from its wild origins in the undomesticated depths of the ocean to a level of ordered cultivation, which must be both profitable to its investors and clean in the waters around it, is quite a difficult thing to achieve. One such enterprise that appears to have got it right so far – and will be supplying Féile Bia na Mara with oysters – is Croagh Patrick Seafoods.
Operating out of Roslaher, Kilmeena, and harvest oysters daily, year-round in Clew Bay, Croagh Patrick Seafoods farm the tried and tested Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas), which has a long shell with a rough deeply ridged exterior. The company also farms the native oyster (Ostrea edulis), which has a flatter, rounder shell and is only harvested in months with an ‘r’ in them.
As oysters live off the naturally occurring phytoplankton in the water, not requiring food additives or disease-control, oyster farming is intrinsically clean. The primary concern for the farmer is the control of stocking densities to ensure maximum size and quality, as well as making sure nobody else pollutes the water – which is certified ‘Grade A’ by the Department of the Marine who regularly test it.
Croagh Patrick Seafoods also produces mussels and difficult-to-cultivate clams for their successful ‘shore-to-door’ business. However, as owner Padraig Gannon explained to me, 80 per cent of their market is still overseas. Despite being widely acclaimed as nutritional ‘super-foods’, Irish people still haven’t warmed to the health benefits of oysters and other shellfish quite like their peers in Europe. Hopefully, this is something that festivals such as Féile Bia na Mara will help to change.

Oyster farm

Watching and learning

Those who love watching bigger marine animals will have an opportunity to do just that during the festival. The two groups who represent our marine mammals in Ireland (the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and the Irish Seal Sanctuary) will be on Achill during the festival. Visitors will be treated to a ‘whale and basking shark watch’ as well as talks and activities all about the biology, ecology and conservation of seals.

For more information on Feile Bia na Mara, see feature in next week’s Mayo News.

John Paul Tiernan, Louisburgh, runs www.irishmarinelife.com, a website dedicated to the creation of knowledge of our marine ecosystems. He is currently studying for an MSc in Marine Science.

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