Cape Rock Wild Oyster

Ark of taste
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The Cape Rock oyster (Striostrea margaritacea) is found naturally with a geographic distribution occurring on rocky reefs from Cape Agulhas to Mozambique. It is sold as “wild oysters” in South African restaurants and fish retailers. A cheaper oyster is the Pacific oyster which is imported mainly from Chile and widely used in mariculture.

The Cape Rock oyster is a much slower grower with a heavy shell and is therefore not used for commercial cultivation. These oysters are found in the intertidal zone (the area that is above water at low tide and under water at high tide, in other words, the area between tide marks) and up to about 6m water depths. Harvesting takes place during spring low tides and traditionally was restricted to the intertidal zone, however in recent years there has been a gradual expansion of harvesting depth towards the fringes of the subtidal zone. This is due to a decline in oyster density in the intertidal zone.

Scientists exploring a cave in South Africa (Pinnacle Point) report evidence of shellfish consumption by humans who lived 164,000 years ago. Anthropologists say the find, together with other evidence found in the cave, could point to one of the earliest examples of “modern behaviour” and the new find suggests that modern human behaviours began earlier than previously believed. Evidence shows that these caves were occupied between 170 000 and 40 000 years ago by Middle Stone Age people and nowhere in the rest of the world could any evidence of modern thinking man be found prior to 45 000 or 50 000 years ago.

The eating of raw oysters was also a considered a delicacy by the Khoi people as many shell middens (giant heaps of shell deposits) dating back more than 2000 years are found along the coastal regions in South Africa. All evidence therefore points to the Cape Rock oyster being a very ancient food.

Currently the intertidal zone in the Southern Cape is being denuded of oysters as a result of over-harvesting. Also, recent surveys that measured oyster density and size show that the intertidal component of the oyster along the KwaZulu South Coast appears to be overexploited.
There have been increasing reports of divers illegally harvesting oysters from sub-tidal “mother beds”. Currently the oysters are harvested by a limited number of licensed collectors as well as private individuals, not all of whom have permits. In northern KwaZulu-Natal subsistence collectors who use the oyster a food source are finding it more difficult to collect as a result of diminishing numbers. As with any marine life, the Cape Rock oyster is susceptible to pollution and there are a number of areas, in particular around large ports, where the oyster is disappearing altogether.

The oysters are eaten raw, smoked, deep fried or boiled and they are a source of food for subsistence collectors.

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StateSouth Africa

Eastern Cape



Production area:From Cape Point to Mozambique

Other info


Fish, sea food and fish products

Indigenous community:Khoi
Nominated by:Brian Dick