Oysters were an important part of the diet of our ancestors and restrictions on their cultivation and sale in the southern ports go back to medieval times. In 1506 a document of the Manor of Earthen, which was part of the great Trelowarren Estate, reserved the right to the best fish and shellfish to the Lord of the Manor. By the mid-seventeenth century the Vyvyan family had rights to the whole river from the Maen Broth Rock to Gweek Bridge and in 1659, Sir Richard Vyvyan took action against John Mayn for fishing without paying dues.

By 1829 the Vyvyans had let the fishing rights on the upper part of the river to John Tyacke. Among the conditions of the lease was that one hundred best oysters were to be delivered to Trelowarren House on Tuesday and Friday each week.

Prosecutions followed any poaching. For many years the depot for the oyster fishing was at Pond House in Polwheveral Creek. In the 1890s the Tyackes appointed Mr. Leonard Hodges’ grandfather and later his father, as their oyster bailiff.

By 1906 oysters were being landed at Port Navas and in 1910 a syndicate calling themselves the ‘Original Helford Oysterage and Fishing Company’ took over the lease. In 1948 the Duchy Oyster Farm was built beside the lower quay in Port Navas for cleaning and packing oysters. The lease was taken by Macfisheries Ltd and Leonard Hodges’ father became manager, to be followed by his son. In due course Leonard himself acquired the lease and the business was subsequently run for many years by his son Lindsay.

In 2005 the Oyster Farm was aquired by Wright Brothers, a successful oyster distributor, intent on reviving the business and re-establishing the oyster beds in the river. They ceased operation in April 2017 and the farm, and the Quay, reverted to the Duchy of Cornwall. The Duchy has subsequently granted the Port Navas Village Hall Management Committee a ‘Licence for Access’ making the Quay available for use by members of the general public for quiet recreation and confirming its continuing availability for the Port Navas Regatta.

Recently Tristan Hugh-Jones has been selected as the new lessee. Tristan was born on his family oyster farm in Ireland, where the main focus was to breed and grow native oysters. He will be farming native oysters on the Helford using traditional cultivation techniques, with the oysters being grown directly on the seabed. Oysters and other shellfish will still be processed from the depot at Port Navas but on a much reduced scale. The existing building has been judged to be beyond economic repair and is likely to be replaced in 2019.