South Korea revels in oyster farming boom

SEOUL, 22 Jan 2023:

South Korea has become the world’s second-largest oyster exporter, second only to China – a feat it has managed after harnessing the full potential of its vast tidal flats.

In 2020, South Korea produced 300,085 tonnes of oysters, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – with over 80% of production hailing from seaside towns in South Gyeongsang like Tongyeong city.

“The area near Tongyeong has many islands that provide the best conditions for oyster farming,” explained Kim Ji-hun, an auctioneer from Oyster Hanging Culture Fisheries Cooperatives. “It is made up of a two-pressure coast, making it safe from typhoons.”

South Korea boasts a vast tidal flat which is the ideal environment for the molluscs to thrive.

The South Gyeongsang coastline, with its many small bays and islands, enjoys relatively calm waters – making the area perfect for oyster farming on a large scale.

The region’s vast oyster output allows South Korea to offer competitive prices on the international market.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, around 90% of Korean oysters come from farms on the southern coast.

The Namgyeong Fisheries in Tongyeong straddles an area of some 30ha and produces between 500 and 600 tonnes of farmed oysters a year.

Oysters are grown using the suspended longline system – where young oysters are attached to longlines that are hung from buoys and remain submerged at sea until they grow to market size.

Once harvested, the oysters are transported by boat to an oyster shucking house for processing and washing.

At the shucking house in Namgyeong Fisheries, approximately 60 workers start work at 2am and work until 2pm, processing up to 3 tonnes of oysters a day.

Each worker prepares between 50kg and 60kg of oysters each day and gets paid 3,300 won (US$2.6o) per kg.

Processed oysters are then sent to auction by the truckload to be sold to fish brokers and sent to markets and restaurants.

Popular oyster dishes in South Korean restaurants include oyster pancakes, braised oysters and spicy raw oysters and oyster seaweed soup. Each dish, which can contain up to 30 oysters, will set diners back around US$16.