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Establishments of Régneville (Oyster farming) - Expo Paris 1867

Establishments of Régneville (Oyster farming) at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

A new agriculture is beginning; it is the agriculture of the sea.

Not only can rivers, ponds and fish ponds be sown with beautiful living and edible species, but the sea coasts also offer the widest fields for maritime culture.

Just as Proteus, in Virgil's poems, herded his marine flocks, so by treating and surrounding a certain area of coastline in a certain way, one can sow, raise, graze and bring back to the fold the docile troops of sole, tuna and even salmon.

But routine is not easily persuaded, and, while waiting for sea grazing to become widespread, sea culture has begun by adopting only the least mobile species, those that are attached to the seabed as plants are attached to the land.
The mussel and the oyster were its first conquests!

Mussels have been cultivated for the last century. It is especially in the Bay of Aiguillon, where it was imported by the famous Walthon, that it provides great wealth. There, each year, mussels are collected from the Boutchoat or Bouchots, enough to fill huge ships. Nothing is more dramatic than the story of this inventor. Saved, the third, from a shipwreck by the fishermen of Aiguillon, he gave them both an inexhaustible source of wealth and the means to harvest it despite the mud. Fascines, sled boats or acons, he provided everything and, for almost a century, fishermen have only pronounced his name with gratitude.

Mrs Sarah-Félix and Mr Chaillet, who have naturalised the cultivation of the oyster in Régneville, have not yet reached this degree of popularity on the Channel coast. Routine has risen up against their establishments, and if it is defeated, it will only be by the glare of the most palpable truths. The tiles displayed in one of the basins of the maritime aquarium and loaded with oysters sown by them are only a small part of these palpable truths. It is the very parks of Régneville that one must visit, that one must have seen begin, grow and become a model institution.

Let us imagine a considerable stretch of coastline protected against the invasion of the sea by powerful unsinkable dykes which have cost both the most ingenious efforts of the builder and considerable sums of money! This stretch of coastline is dug out almost everywhere at the same level and divided into numerous parks on whose dykes a constant watch can be kept. The water from the sea only reaches them with the force, speed and height calculated for the success of the crops.

In the parks specially designed for breeding, racks are laid out, and tiles are placed on these racks. Under these tiles, oysters are thrown, which, when the season comes, leave their spawn in the water, which, seen under a microscope, contains thousands of small oysters for a single mother oyster. These small oysters or spat attach themselves to the tiles, feed on them, develop there, and being opposed neither by the winds, nor by the big tides, moreover receiving a flow loaded with animalcules imperceptible to the eye, but more abundant on the coasts, these small oysters, we say, become quickly adult and good to eat. Their taste is nothing like that of oysters that could be called wild. They are exquisite fruits, and the name "ortolans of the sea", which was given to them at the Normandy congress of 1863, has been adopted by the world of gourmandise. The shell is light, not very wide but deep. The fish that fills it is fatty and tasty.
There is the same difference between it and the mollusc that came from the rocks beaten by the sea as there is between the peach cultivated in Montreuil and the wild medlar.

We saw ourselves laying the tiles that are now in the aquarium. It is from inductions to inductions that Mr. Chaillet and Mrs. Sarah-Felix arrived at this marvellous result. It would be impossible to say what trials and expenses they had to make, but today the problem has been solved. Have large areas of uncultivated coastline, protect them from the fury of the ocean, make a quiet sea, but nevertheless always renewed, cover it with materials capable of receiving the spat of oysters sown on the bottom, and you will have unexpected harvests.
The jury, according to what we learn, awards the two founders of the Régneville establishments a gold medal. This is, one must think, only a first justice.

There is the same success for the oyster as Walthon obtained for the mussel. The latter, because of its abundance, has become overpriced and fallen into disfavour, but the oyster is more sought after every day. At the beginning of this century, only a few thousand baskets of them were consumed in Paris, and the price was only five or six hundred thousand francs. Now the ever-open mouth of the Parisian Gargantua demands and consumes millions of them. The price of a dozen has increased fivefold, and everything indicates that a decrease can only occur if new, very rich beds are discovered or if artificial production develops.

The means used in Régneville should therefore be studied with the greatest attention and propagated. The founders of the establishments on this beach have spared no effort to achieve a success in which they have invested their honour and their future. Elegant companies can walk at ease on their dykes. Everything here is grandiose and made to defy time.

Let our fishermen, on all suitable coasts, imitate, on a lesser scale, the parks, the water intakes, the wattle and daub, the distribution of tiles or other objects destined to receive the spat, let them protect this spat by works which, if necessary, can be common to a whole canton, and soon we shall see cultured oysters become as common as the fruits of our gardens. The natural bench is the forest, the great universal nursery. If the system of Mr. Chaillet and Mrs. Sarah-Felix were adopted and practiced, we would no longer fish in the common sea except to obtain oysters for reproduction.

A scientist to whom our maritime populations will certainly one day raise statues, M. Coste, in his eloquent memoir on the production of our coasts, predicted before us that there would come a day when an almost uninterrupted belt of oyster beds would surround our coasts of the Channel and the Ocean. The efforts which we are outlining here justify this prediction.

We must add that not all of Régneville's oyster beds are intended for reproduction. A large number are used to sanitise, rest, fatten, and even green the oysters taken from the banks; and there they acquire a flavour almost equal to that of the cultivated mollusc.

The government also has a share in the credit for these establishments. In 1862 it advanced a very large sum to the founders out of the loans intended for industry. Let it continue its work, let it acknowledge the services rendered by abandoning its claim. Mr. Chaillet and Mme Sarah-Félix, freed from the sword of Damocles hanging over them as a result of this debt, will be able to complete and perfect what they have begun, and France will owe them a truly invaluable source of food. Their names will be added to those of Coste and Walthon.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée