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Meet Tom Haward - Eighth Generation Oysterman.

An interview with eighth generation oysterman, Tom Haward.

The Haward family have been cultivating oysters since the 1700’s and are the oldest oyster farmers in Britain, maybe the world. Richard is seventh generation and his sons, Bram and Tom, are eighth. Oyster cultivation is intricate and something that even the most experienced oysterman will never fully understand. I thought it would be good to do a series of profiles on members of the Haward family, starting with Tom.

The Packing Shed. Mersea Island. Mersea Oysters.

Tom has worked for all of the family businesses (Head-chef at Mehalah’s and Maitre D at The Company Shed), and has worked independently of them too. However, he was drawn back to his love of the sea and wanting to honour the family heritage. His nickname is 8th gen as he loves dropping the bomb whenever he meets new people! I interviewed him last week and this is what he had to say.

 Tom Haward. Mersea Island shucking mersea oysters

What is your role?

“I am the operations manager, managing day to day activities of the staff, I organise the number of oysters being landed everyday to be washed, graded and put in the depuration tanks, responsible for generating more business, creating new leads and sales. I also manage contacts overseas and logistics of exporting oysters”.

What did you want to do growing up? Did you always want to work for the family business?

“I wanted to be a policeman from the age of about 7 until the age of 18. I always wanted to be part of the family business but understood the pressure of working in the family business and how family for me comes before business every time, so have had moments where I have been tentative about the amount of involvement to have with the family’s businesses.”

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“I enjoy learning about the sea every single day and realising how little I know about it. My team - they make me laugh, they’re loyal and they’re passionate”.

Where do you want to take the business? And where would you like to see it in five years time?

“I would like to continue to take the business along the heritage of a family of oyster cultivators, but continue to expand our reach across the globe. I would like to grow the business so that we have two oyster dredgers and in five years time, we are selling double the amount we sell now, which would roughly be 2 million oysters a year”.

What are you most proud of?

“Professionally, being part of such a long and romantic history. I’m proud that I’m the son of the mother and father who have achieved so much on behalf of Mersea Island. I don’t think I’ve done enough professionally but I’m proud of the passion that I have for it each and everyday. To be really proud of what I do, I would like to grow the business to something that dad could only dream of. Personally, I’m proud of the life I have created with my girlfriend and our new puppy, achieving an MA in Creative Writing as I like to stretch myself intellectually and also being eighth gen”.

What makes oysters from Mersea so unique, in your opinion?

“West Mersea oysters are the only purely wild oysters in the country, so our oysters grow surrounded by marshland that is full of incredible nutrients. We’re where the Romans discovered oysters, our family has been farming oysters for hundreds of years so the story makes what we do unique to the United Kingdom”.

Explain the cycle of an oyster.

“An oyster starts as a male, it ejects sperm into the sea, then it then turns into a female which then ejects eggs into the sea which are then fertilised by the sperm. Those fertilised eggs turn into larvae, known as spat. The spat settles on shell, rock or stone where it attaches itself and will grow into a fully formed oyster. An oyster changes sex throughout its life. Cultch is shell which is on the bottom of the seabed which encourages baby oysters to settle and grow on”.

Oyster life cycle. Richard Haward's Oysters

Are there any areas that you need to improve on in order to have a better understanding of the business or to move it forward even further?

“I need to be better at delegating, I need to much more discerning of how the export market works so I’m able to make much more profit out of that. I don’t know if I will ever know enough about oysters to understand how best to grow them and cultivate them to give the the best chance of surviving but I love to learn so will keep trying to understand the environment and the industry as best I can”.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle in the oyster/fishing industry?

“Overfishing -  because if we don’t think about future seasons and encourage baby oysters to grow for next year and the year after, the industry will die. If we dredge the seabed without giving baby oysters a chance to grow and reproduce for years to come, there will be nothing left”.

What motivates you?

“Building a happy and stable life for me and my girlfriend, honouring my legacy and creating a product that is world famous”.

Lastly, rock or native? And why?

“I prefer rock or native depending on my mood as sometimes I prefer the saltiness of the rock and sometimes I prefer the metallic tinge of a native. But if I had to choose, I would always choose the native. Because that is what has made my family who they are today”.

I hope you enjoyed reading this. Make sure you follow us on our social media pages:

Instagram - @richardhawardsoysters

Facebook - @rhoysters

Twitter - @rhawardoysters

Remember you can order our oysters via mail order on our website or arrange to collect them from our retail unit at Borough Market. There’s only a few weeks left of the native oyster season so make the most of it as they will be unavailable until September.

Mersea island oysters. Tom Haward.

The next one will be all about Bram!


1 comment

  • thank you for the great video on your website.

    a few decades ago, as a young german, i was able to actively experience the ANNOYING oyster farming in the Arcachon basin with a french oyster fisherman.

    I wish you and your professional collegues, that you may sell your oysters despite brexit again to europe profitably. Attentive on the long oyster breeding tradition around Mersea I became through the current issue 8/2021 of the german Spiegel.

    Kind regards from Berlin

    Frank Röwekamp

    Frank Röwekamp

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