A Falmouth oysterman is ‘open for orders’ for a final fundraising push to launch his canning business in the New Year – and has just ten days left to raise the money.

Chris Ranger, who gathers native oysters from the River Fal, is hoping to raise £12,700 by the end of December to pay for a commercial food manufacturing retort — which will sterilise his low-carbon tinned shellfish for up to five years.

Everything else is in place, but he needs to raise the funds for the final piece by December 28 to make Cornish Canning Co a reality - and to do so he is offering people the chance to 'pre-order' products via a crowdfunder at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/cornishcanningco

Chris had the idea for ‘preserving his catch’ in 2013, but it wasn’t until this year that the business received funding from the Co-op Foundation ‘Carbon Innovation Fund 2022.’

Demand for fresh oysters plummeted due to Brexit, Covid-19 and concerns around sewage and local water quality. The 47-year-old believes canning shellfish is a more efficient way of reducing food waste in quieter winter sales, while storing stock for busier summer periods that will fund the next season.

Chris, who fishes from Mylor Harbour, said he regularly throws away shellfish he cannot sell due to “customer perception, not food safety”.

The Fal’s traditional method is by gathering oysters using a regulated wind-powered sail boat and hand-pulled dredges. “It's heartbreaking to go out on a sailboat, catch wild shellfish, and then see it go to waste if demand suddenly changes," he said.

In recyclable metal and turquoise packaging, he plans to supply canned ‘Fal Oysters’ and other shellfish to delis, hotels, shops and restaurants when his company launches fully in early 2023.

By reviving traditional methods, this would be Cornwall’s first tinned seafood venture since Mevagissey’s Fish Canning Factory in the 1940s, and could heighten demand for Cornish produce, not just his shellfish.

“Currently, there are four main fears surrounding eating oysters. People don’t want to cut themselves opening them, they worry they’re slimy, or live, and that the water quality is poor,” Chris said.

But canning oysters, queen scallops and mussels with a squeeze of lemon or tabasco, may offer a more globally marketable product.

“Canning eliminates all of those issues. It’s a way of enjoying shellfish without the prep, making them a little firmer and cooked, whilst ultimately making sure they're safe to eat and with profits making sure the stock is truly sustainably managed,” he explained.

“Around 70% of fish we eat in the UK comes out of a tin – just look at tuna. Yet most of this is processed elsewhere. I couldn’t believe there was no fish canning company in Cornwall, or England, so I’m glad to be setting up the Cornish Canning Co some 80 years after the last one.”

The Cornish Canning Co attracted investment in the early stages and was 'part funded' by The Co-op Foundation & Co-op ‘Carbon Innovation Fund 2022’ — a sustainability grant from the Co-op Foundation.

This was partly due to canned seafood’s potential to reduce greenhouse gases in the food and farming delivery network, as well as oyster shells being retained in the manufacturing process. An oyster shell is made up of calcium carbonate, which is carbon sequestered from the atmosphere by the bivalves, and crucial in future wild substrate recruitment.

However, the business needs one last bit of equipment to achieve full manufacturing accreditation — a retort that will pasteurize the canned produce according to UK and international food safety regulations.

Falmouth Packet: Cornish Canning Co would sell tinned seafood such as oystersCornish Canning Co would sell tinned seafood such as oysters (Image: CJ Ranger)

Since 2017, Chris has worked on ‘SavingESTER the Cornish Native Oyster’ from decline.

His community interest company, Fal Fishery Cooperative CIC, raised funds via Crowdfunder to set up a hatchery and aquaculture site on the River Fal, which is now fully active and powered by solar panels and wind turbine.

Here, he practices a mix of "mother-nature" and "science" to conserve oyster larvae, so they have a higher chance of surviving the 500,000 to one survival rate in the wild.

“Although I'm fishing, eating, selling, and promoting oysters, I'm also trying to put more oysters back in the wild than I take out, one day I hope we all put more in than we all take out. I think this is an achievable and quite sensible goal.”

The Cornish Canning Co hopes to launch its products in early 2023 and is not asking for donations, but instead offering the chance to pre-order the shellfish.

This will go in the cans already purchased, seamed by the machine already installed, using power from the wind and solar system on the roof, but just requiring the final safety.

You can pre-order canned shellfish to make the project a reality at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/cornishcanningco