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Denmark Wants Your Help to Eat Their Oysters

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Recently, the Danish Embassy in China attracted a ton of attention on Weibo when it asked netizens for suggestions on how to solve their oyster overpopulation problem. One answer seemed to be popular: send tourists to Denmark to eat them.

The Danish government wasn’t kidding about an overpopulation problem: the invasive Pacific oysters are killing off native European oysters at an alarming rate. While getting tourists to gorge on oysters may not be a permanent solution, at least you now know what to do when you’re in Denmark.

Specifically if you find yourself on the western side of the Jutland Peninsula. Ribe and Rømø are great places to base yourself if you’re in for an all-you-can-eat oyster buffet. Be prepared: these Pacific oysters are giants among oysters  – the shell can be up to 40 cm in length. The flesh can be the size of fried eggs.

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The small Danish town of Ribe is your typical picturesque town, with pretty cobbled streets and colourful houses. However, head to the shore, and you can literally wade into the sea for a couple of kilometres where you’ll come upon mussel banks where layers and layers of oysters lie waiting for you to pry them open. All you need is a good pair of waders, a pair of gloves, and a knife. Oh, and don’t forget your lemon (or whatever condiment you eat oysters with) and maybe a bucket if you want to bring some back to the hotel.

A little further north is the island of Rømø – it’s currently overrun by oysters at a faster rate than anywhere on earth: one ton per hectare. Again, you can simply wade to the sandy flats when the tide is out, and fill your bucket(s) with these morsels. You can then set up your dinner on the beach – bring champagne, perhaps – and enjoy the view with your briny dinner.

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The huge numbers of oysters means it’s not difficult to find oyster tours which take place in the Wadden Sea at low tide. There is no other place in Denmark where is it possible to stand on solid ground while collecting as many oysters as you can carry. Literally, the world is your oyster.

These Pacific oysters are so prolific that they’ve also been found much further up the peninsula – they can also be found in the Limfjorden, a shallow sound in the northern part of Jutland. However, if you’re lucky, Pacific oysters aren’t the only bivalves here.

The original oysters that populate Jutland are the European flat oysters (ostrea edulis), aka Whitstable or Limfjyord oysters. Unlike the craggy Pacific oysters, these ones are rounder and flatter, with a golden hue on the inside. Unlike their Pacific cousins, which can easily be found on sandflats, you’ll have to find these European oysters underwater with the help of a bathyscope – a traffic cone-shaped device you use to see underwater.

European oysters are much rarer – and are rated among the best in the world. One Limfjord oyster can cost as much as 60 Danish kroner (S$12) in a Copenhagen restaurant.

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Limfjord oyster

The Oyster War

How did the oysters get to be a problem? Well, in the 60s, Pacific oysters were introduced to the German island of Sylt, where ten years later, the oyster larvae had moved up to the Danish Wadden Sea. After some warm years, the Pacific oyster population literally exploded, and native mussel beds – mussels are a local food source for the 12 million birds in the mudflats – were overtaken by an army of oysters. Up to 300 oysters per square metre.

This causes problems for the bird population (oyster shells are too thick to pick at), so that just leaves humans as their only predator. So now you know why it’s down to us – oyster consumers – to help keep the population under control.

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