• Kate Stark

Melshell Sea Farms


SHINING SUCCESS: Ian and Cassie Melrose, Melshell Sea Farms, preparing an order in their processing and shucking room at Dolphin Sands on the East Coast of Tasmania. IMAGE: Sam Shelley

 

SMALL waves lap at the sides of Melshell Sea Farm's barge-come-workhorse 'Cracker Jack' as the team make their way out to their East Coast oyster lease.

With an aggregation spanning more than 65 hectares across Great Oyster Bay and the Swan River, along with another 6ha on land for processing, packing and distributing, the farm is a thriving 'spat to plate' operation.

Owners Ian and Cassie Melrose have been busy preparing for their next adventure, opening their beloved 'Oyster Shack' this month - a converted caravan serving up unique 'Melshell Gold' oysters to the delight of locals and visitors alike.

Re-imagined after closing down at the end of last year, the Melshell Oyster Shack now sports an eye-catching aesthetic with bright blue paint covering every inch of the new build.


Farm gate

Located at Dolphin Sands on the East Coast of Tasmania, the family-run farm gate tasting experience was established as a side gig for the oyster farm in 2015.

"We bought a caravan from a neighbour for $100, stripped it whacked in a display fridge and popped it near the farm gate," Cassie said. "It took a while to generate awareness but was greatly assisted by a Tourism Tasmania advertising campaign [which was] was the game changer for us.

"Brand awareness also generated an increase in sales to local restaurants and gradually the farm became less reliant on wholesale fish markets interstate." It quickly became the main revenue stream for the business with tourists flocking for the freshest oysters served with oyster farming secrets and a view of the oyster leases.

"The farm continued producing quality oysters and diverted the sales to Melbourne's wholesale fish markets," Cassie said of the COVID-19 restrictions which forced the pair to close the shack last year. "We tried opening up earlier this year but found we needed to offer more than just natural oysters."

Serving up fresh Melshell Gold half shells to customers at their updated farmgate has created an opportunity for Ian and Cassie to further connect with their community.

"We have spent the last few months investing in the business to now include a commercial kitchen, liquor license and self-cooking kebab stations to meet local demands," she said, adding the shack will officially re-open for customers on November 2.

Point of difference

Having a point of difference for consumers is something Cassie said is at the heart of Melshell introducing the gold spat to the lease.

"Presently, there is no way of confirming providence of oysters served to you at a restaurant. The 'Melshell Gold' product line is our way to differentiate our oysters from others when served in a half shell."

Cassie said a push from consumers to support local farmers and learn more about where their food is coming from has translated into sales.

"Early on in our farm's production, we tried many ideas to try to attach some kind of identifying brand. We tried to grow them with a criss-cross pattern imprinted from its housing equipment.

"We tried adding flakes of different materials to see if they would stick and imbed in the shell's exterior, but had no luck," she said.

"Going gold is a way for us to tell the consumer - be it in our café, other restaurants or in national fish markets - these are Melshell oysters. We can support that brand with sustainable practices and a quality product."

"How many people get to go to work knowing they are producing a product that is not harming the environment, that has health benefits for consumers and is used to celebrate life events.

"We love sharing our love of oysters."


 

*First published October 2021 for Tasmanian Farmer Newspaper - owned by Australian Community Media.