The Passion
18th & 19th Century
•• Coste
Belle Epoque
20th Century

French Terms

John McCabe

In France, oyster babies are collectively referred to as "naissains". The term "naissains" is about as "scientific" as the term "oyster babies". Depending on whom you talk to, a "naissain" or "oyster baby" can be the oyster larva, or the tiny brownish dot on some kind of substrate it turns into after metamorphosis, or a tiny oyster the size of a finger nail. Considering that oysters can reach 20 to 30 years of age, any oyster under the age of one year is very young.

The oystermen of Arcachon likely don't really care to argue where an oyster starts and stops being called a "naissain". All that matters are "the dots" - the more the merrier!

Two species of oyster live in the Arcachon Bay, the Pacific oyster and the European oyster. The Pacific oyster is by far the commercially more important species. Sometime in March or early April, when the water reaches a temperature of about 13° C, the Pacific oysters start getting a little "romantic". Nature's wisdom decides how many males and females will exist among these hermaphrodites. Sometime between May and June, the Pacific oysters get "milky". Each oyster is now filled either with sperm or eggs - by the millions. In the summer months, when the water in the bay reaches about 19° to 22° C, the oysters spawn. The Arcachon Bay is a huge and complex marine environment. The pacific oysters may thus spawn a little earlier in one area of the bay than in another.

Unlike European oysters, Pacific oysters don't take care of their offspring at all. They are scientifically referred to as "broadcast spawners". Enormous masses of sperm and eggs are released almost simultaneously into the sea. Purely by chance, "some" sperm will find "some" eggs and oyster larvae will begin to form. Since we are talking billions of sperm and eggs emitting from a bed of Pacific oysters, "some" can easily translate into millions of Pacific oyster larvae. However, the chance of survival of a Pacific oyster larva is not very good. It is just slightly better than that of a snowball in hell. After about twenty days of floundering around in the plankton layer of Arcachon Bay, running the gauntlet of countless natural enemies and other dangers, likely only one percent will live long enough to find a suitable place to settle down on and survive the radical metamorphosis into a "baby oyster" - which soon is visible to the naked eye as a tiny brownish "dot," no bigger than a pin head.

As mentioned, ending up with as many of these "oyster dots" is the name of the game for the oystermen of Arcachon. It's an extremely labor intensive and very expensive "game". Winning or loosing may mean the difference between prosperity and poverty. It's called "Captage"!


Top of Page



Advisements on any errors discovered are most welcome: Contact