Why Balkan farmers fear for the future of their prized oysters

“An oyster leads a dreadful however thrilling life,” MFK Fisher noticed in her basic e book about them, “stuffed with stress, ardour and hazard.”

The oyster, in different phrases, suits proper in with the beleaguered Balkans.

In his 62 years on this tumultuous area, the lifetime of Bode Sare has been at the very least as eventful as an oyster’s. Sare has been a partisan warrior, a weapons smuggler, a restaurant proprietor and a prisoner (twice).

Now, because the proprietor of extremely regarded seafood eating places in Croatia, he champions regionally grown oysters and is a part of a collective of 75 farmers that tends oyster beds in Mali Ston bay, a part of the Adriatic Sea alongside the southern Croatian coast.


One early morning, as a mist shrouds the traditional wall that snakes across the hills overlooking the village of Mali Ston, Sare’s son, Tomislav, guides the household’s boat previous the plastic markers bobbing within the shimmering blue waters and marking the collective’s oyster beds.

He stops at one floating pontoon to pluck a string of European flat oysters, often called Ostrea edulis, from the water. He rapidly shucks a dozen, tops them with a contact of lemon and smiles.

“Watch out, it’s true what they are saying,” he says. “There’s a cause Croatians have huge households.”

The cultivation of oysters right here stretches again centuries, to the times of Roman rule. By wars and political upheaval, the harvesting could have been disrupted, however it by no means ended.

Oysters, just like the folks dwelling alongside the Dalmatian coast, are survivors, Sare says. Round 5 million of the bivalves are pulled from the waters yearly.

However they might quickly face a menace from the swift and vital change to the ecosystem introduced on by the headlong rush within the Balkans to embrace hydropower, usually with little regard to the broader environmental penalties.

In a area nonetheless closely reliant on coal, hydropower gives a clear and comparatively low-cost different power supply. Throughout the western Balkans, about 3,000 hydropower plant tasks are underneath approach or being deliberate – a 300 per cent improve from simply two years in the past, in line with a examine by Fluvius, an ecological consultancy in Vienna.

A hydropower plant on the river Trebisnjica, close to Trebinje. Farmers worry new dams can have a detrimental impact on the realm’s oyster inhabitants (AFP/Getty)

The oyster farmers of the bay are most involved about tasks that will contain damming the Neretva river, which flows from Bosnia into Croatia after which empties into the bay.

A latest plan to construct a dam in Bosnia on the river was scrapped on the final minute, solely when the Chinese language firm contracted for the undertaking pulled out.

Native residents who rely on the bay worry that it’s only a short-term reprieve. They usually fear that different tasks in Bosnia may very well be pursued.

Bosnia continues to be cut up by ethnic division, divided into two entities – a Serb-run Republika Srpska and a combined Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Political choices are sometimes made alongside ethnic strains, with little thought for the impact on the nation as a complete, a lot much less on adjoining international locations.

Mario Radibratovic’s household has been farming oysters right here for greater than 500 years. Now a member of the oyster-farming collective, he worries about what is going to occur to the oysters if the hydrodam on the Neretva river is revived.

Oysters are solely nearly as good because the waters that feed them, he explains.

The distinctive mix of vitamins in Mali Ston bay – the salt from the ocean mixing with the freshwater from the rivers, with a wealthy mattress of phytoplankton on the seafloor – creates the crisp, balanced flavour within the native oysters, prized since Roman emperors first funded farms right here.

“The oysters want the freshwater from the river, and the proposed dam will lower that off and kill the ecosystem,” he says.

Even in the perfect of circumstances, an oyster’s “likelihood to dwell in any respect is slim”, Fisher wrote in her e book, Think about the Oyster.

Oyster eggs are devoured by the hundreds of thousands of different sea creatures, and a fertilised egg will develop provided that the water is heat sufficient, above 21C. The fortunate few turn into free-swimming larvae, which float about as they like for a number of weeks – every a “carefree youth”, as Fisher wrote.

Sare’s son, Tomislav, 22, explains what occurs subsequent on a tour of the household’s farms and the small island within the bay, which oyster lovers can hire for personal events.

The younger oysters are captured in a web and after a yr, he says, those deemed mature sufficient are cemented to a rope. For 2 years, they dwell hanging within the sea till harvest time.

The elder Sare began his seafood empire in 1980, when he opened his first cafe, not way more than a small shack on the aspect of the street that runs alongside the bay.

Mali Ston and the adjoining metropolis of Ston have been constructed as fortresses throughout mediaeval instances and have become famend for the three.5-mile Nice Wall that snakes round them. So in these days earlier than the warfare, there have been loads of vacationers to feed, Sare says.


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However native companies didn’t know tips on how to cater to their wants, particularly overseas guests.

“In socialism, what you get is heat wine,” he says. However he paid consideration to what prospects wished. He noticed that Italians preferred brief espresso and the English black espresso.

“Individuals need ice,” he says. So he purchased what he believes was the primary ice machine for miles round. The worth for almost every thing on the menu was the identical: £1.

Quickly, he was raking in cash, and authorities began to take word. However he refused to present native officers a lower, and it value him. When some vandals have been caught close to his cafe urinating on a monument to anti-fascist fighters, he was branded an enemy of the state and despatched to jail.

Just a few years later, Yugoslavia can be convulsed by violence and when warfare got here, Sare took up arms with the Croat nationalists and was once more briefly imprisoned for smuggling weapons.

He has since grow to be probably the most profitable restaurateurs in Croatia, increasing from his flagship restaurant in Mali Ston to outposts in Cut up, Dubrovnik and Zagreb.

And the draw in any respect the eating places stays the oyster, so he hopes no dam or ethnic division ever impacts their farming or flavour.

“Oysters know nothing of nationalities or ethnicities,” Sare says. “However politicians? They prosper on dividing folks. So as an alternative of defending this heritage, they’re nonetheless preventing about issues stretching again to the Second World Struggle.”

© New York Occasions

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