Latest update: 29 September 2021
Oysters: you hate them or you love them. I love them. especially when I can pick oysters for free! My friends and I have declared our Zeeland oyster expedition an annual tradition. Tag along!
Collecting oysters in Zeeland
How much do you pay for oysters in a restaurant? Twenty euros for half a dozen? You don’t have to. In Zeeland, a province in the Netherlands, oysters are literally there for the taking. Free. So quickly go on an oyster expedition!
I must say, it took me some time the locate a picking spot for free oysters in Zeeland. I usually collect free oysters at Goes, Het Sas. It’s a bit further down the harbor, where we park near the DIXI. The St. Annastrand too, is a great picking location with free parking and a DIXI. Always handy to have that nearby, right? You’ll find the exact locations further down in this article.
Japanese oysters in Zeeland
In Zeeland, you will find the Japanese oyster. This oyster is usually called creuse on the menu. In the 1960s, the Dutch flat oyster suffered from an oyster disease. Growers hoped the Japanese version would be stronger – and they were. In fact, they were so strong that a real plague started in the 1970s, almost completely expelling the Dutch oyster. The Japanese oyster needs very little space, and they do well on both solid and soft grounds. They start reproducing at the age of one already and grow extremely fast. An adult oyster can reach a size of 40 centimeters. Wow! Wow! I very much doubt that it’s still tasty then.
Have you heard that unsavory story about oysters and herpes? Excuse me? Yes, Japanese oysters can contract the herpes virus. But no stress: people won’t get catch it from an oyster. Pfiewwwww….
Almost alone in the world when collecting oysters
There is no one to be seen in Zeeland at the Goese Sas beach – the weather is not that great, but luckily that changes later in the day. We easily spend a few hours, and all we see is a few runners, divers, and one other oyster picker. Also, on a sunny day at the St. Annastrand, we’re the only ones searching for oysters. We share the beach with some tourists soaking up the sun. So you don’t have to be scared about fighting over oysters. There is plenty for everyone.
Guess how many oysters you can pick per person? You’ll be amazed: you can collect ten kilos per person a day! You can also find mussels and cockles, which also count towards those ten kilos.
In some places, people try to catch crabs with a piece of bacon on a string. We stick to oysters. Of course, you cannot pick at the commercial oyster plots, but that seems logical. There is more than enough to be found outside of those.
When do you collect oysters? – oyster season and timing
The oyster season runs from September to April – when the month contains an R. You pick oysters at low tide. You pick oysters at low tide. So check when it is low tide, for example, on the website of Rijkswaterstaat. It’s best to pick between two hours before the lowest water level and two hours after the lowest water level.
How do you pick oysters?
Oyster picking is actually very easy. At the foot of the dike, the oysters are literally there for the taking. They are stuck on the stones. Here you can deter them with, for example, a hammer and a chisel. Please note that you only take the ones with closed shells – you don’t want to get sick! If you break one by accident, just slurp your oyster on the spot.
We soon have our buckets full to the brim. When we start, I basically throw every oyster I come across in my bucket, but soon I notice that I can be much pickier. I have a very strict selection process: I leave the huge ones and the tiny ones. That way, I give the small ones a chance to grow, and if the oysters are too big, I think they are challenging to eat. One more piece of advice: choose the rounder ones. For me, the flat ones are much more difficult to open with my oyster knife.
Standing in the water with my boots on, picking an oyster, and throwing it in my mouth – just how cool is that?! Very cool! And so fresh and tasty.
Picnic and barbecue with our oysters
We brought a lot of food and drinks and made an oyster feast on the beach. Some of the oysters, we put on the barbecue. Once the shells open, the oysters are ready to eat. We immediately try out the new oyster knife, because we like oysters best raw. Add some finely chopped shallot with Balseto Laudense (not always available at Albert Heijn, unfortunately) and a little lemon: heaven. Or mix onion with red wine vinegar. Yum!
Not sure how to open an oyster? Check this video:
We do our very best to eat all the oysters we picked, but that is humanly impossible. We end up taking quite a few home. Tired, satisfied, and rosy, we drive back to the Randstad. Best day ever.
Pick oysters yourself or with a guided tour?
If you ask me, you should go and pick oysters yourself. Make sure you figure out where to go and when low tide hits. There are also opportunities to pick oysters with an oyster tour. You get some history and details on oysters, and you know for sure that you’ll be searching for oysters at the right spot. I’ve never tried such a tour, but maybe the Oestour is a good option?
Where can you pick oysters in Zeeland?
You can see on the Dutch Wildplukwijzer where you can legally collect oysters in the Netherlands. I have now been a few times at Goese Sas (Google Maps location). If Google gets confused, go to the restaurant De Zeeuwse Kornuit and follow the road next to the water. We parked at the DIXI toilets that you will encounter within five minutes (I assume they are still there). When you walk into the water from the beach, you’re at the right spot.
And in 2021, I went to the St Annastrand (Google Maps location) to find oysters. It’s a tiny beach near the harbor, where you can park your car for free. Go up the dike, and then you are at the beach. Dogs are allowed, but only on a leash. When you walk on the beach, keep right. You’ll find the oysters between the stones and rocks.
At the Goese Sas you enter the water, so you’ll definitely need boots. At the St Annastrand we stay on the beach, so sneakers are sufficient for oyster picking. But, it all depends on the tide! Take your boots with you – better safe than sorry.
Packing list for picking oysters
- Rain boots (Bol.com or Amazon), preferably slightly higher ones (or, if there’s no other option, old shoes)
- A towel
- Clean clothes
- A chisel and/or hammer to pry the oysters loose
- A bucket to collect your oysters
- An oyster knife (Bol.com or Amazon).
- An oyster glove from Bol.com or Amazon – you could take a towel, but it is much less safe.
- Picnic gear: cloth, drinks, snacks. And for your oysters, for example, a shallot or onion, lemon, Balseto Laudense, red wine vinegar, or anything else you like.
Bol.com also has sets where you can buy a glove and oyster knife together, for example:
More travel inspiration for the Netherlands
Want more travel advice? Do check all my blogs about beautiful places and fun activities in my home country. Also a good idea: buy the Lonely Planet of the Netherlands as it has lots of practical information. Available at Amazon and Book Depository. The latter is usually the cheapest but often has a slightly longer shipping time.
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First published: september 2015. The article has been updated since.