Tonight's dinner was industrial waste

Phil May and Andrea Twigg
Sun 15 Apr 2012 07:46
It is not often you can eat the byproduct of an industry, but tonight we ate oyster that would otherwise have been thrown to the fish.  Pearl oysters are bigger than eating oysters and have muscles that are similar to scallops.  A bit tougher than scallops, but more tender than clams, they make excellent eating and the good bit is that we have another meal's worth still in the freezer. 
On our trip this morning our first stop was to see how they collect the baby oysters.  The process involves floating long lines over the natural breeding beds.  The baby oysters swim upwards and attach to the lines, where they grow and are collected and seeded.  It sounds a bit hit and miss, but anyone who has had a boat in the tropics knows how quickly shellfish will attach to anything floating near the surface.
The seeded oysters are tied back on lines and left for 18 months to develop their pearls.  These first generation pearls are harvested and the oysters are re-seeded.  First generation pearls are often flawed due to the trauma of the young oyster having the seed inserted.  However, oysters can be seeded multiple times, and the second, third and fourth generation pearls are usually much higher quality due to the hosts accepting the seed much more readily.
Here is Andrea untying one of the knots on a string of first generation oysters.
And coming up for air.  Some of the oyster string knots took a couple of attempts to untie.
Bertie and Estella back on the oyster boat holding up one of their strings of oysters.  We took the strings back to the workshop for processing.
Back in the workshop, one of the girls from Seaquest is getting stuck in to slicing open her oyster.
The first oyster Bertie opened contained a huge pearl.  Cultured pearls are actually inside a sack which has to be cut open to release the pearl.   You first see the enlarged sack, indicating there is a pearl there, at which point the excitement mounts as you open it to determine the size, shape and color.