Ilha dos Puxadoiros

The oyster paradise

Words: Teresa Castro Viana

On an island made up of former salt flats in the Ria de Aveiro, high-quality oysters are produced and sold mainly to restaurants from the north to the south of Portugal. Vergílio Rocha, thw administrator of Ilha dos Puxadoiros, tells the story of the company and talks about future goals.

What began as a joke about 15 years ago has turned into a successful business. “We started by buying an abandoned salt flat on the island. We then brought together a group of people from Aveiro, who always looked at the Ria in a different way, and decided to buy the whole island”, says the Ilha dos Puxadoiros administrator Vergílio Rocha. “From the beginning, it was our intention to improve the environmental conditions of the estuary. At first, we prioritised the production of salt because there was still a salt flat producing it, and we also invested in tourism, which we intend to revive”.

But from very early on, they realised that aquaculture could provide a brighter future. Today, the ambition of Ilha dos Puxadoiros is to be “the biggest oyster brand in the Portuguese market”, says Vergílio. They produce the Crassostrea Gigas, which is “an oyster that came from the east and which has done very well here”. It is “the most common in the European oyster industry”, “very profitable” and “more resilient”, adds Vergílio.

Produced in the Ria de Aveiro and raised on the Ilha dos Puxadoiros “in the tanks of former salt flats”, resulting in “confined, environmentally friendly and highly sustainable” production, as the company states on its website, the oysters are sold mainly to restaurants in the length and breadth of the country. “We started by putting the Aveiro oyster on the map in Lisbon and then Porto. For many years, nobody knew about the Aveiro oyster because all the production was exported to France. There were people from Porto who went to Vigo to eat oysters, and we tried to explain to them that there was a place with good oysters closer than Galicia”.

Much more popular now than five years ago — “there were very few people who believed oysters produced in Portugal would be consumed in the Portuguese market”. Now, Vergílio notes that there is even more interest from individuals. Through the website, which was created so that they could reach customers outside the trade channels, you can now order oysters that have been properly purified and transported and receive them at home within 24 hours anywhere in mainland Portugal. And also, the knives to open them with.

The oysters are always calibrated, both for restaurants and individuals, and have a hard shell that is not too thick. “A good quality oyster has a tough shell”. And contrary to common beliefs that associate oysters with wealth, they are not expensive. “They are actually very cheap. Nowadays, they are the cheapest bivalve”, says Vergilío. However, they do require some preservative care. As they are “concave on one side and flat on the other” they should be well positioned to avoid the loss of water. “An oyster can last up to 15 days in the fridge”. It is also necessary to comply with a set of requirements to be able to sell them. “We can only produce oysters in authorised areas. Recurrent analyses are carried out”, he says. “”In the past, people ate bivalves that had not been purified, which resulted in more food poisoning; however, that is now prohibited”.

Vergílio believes “all the conditions are there to grow this market”, with people “acquiring some culture” over time. “A few years ago people didn’t eat rocket; a few years ago people didn’t eat samphire”, he says.

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