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Caught and canned in Cornwall

Through his award-winning brand, the Cornish Canning Co., Chris ‘Ranger’ reacquaints us with a forgotten history that brings us back to Cornish roots. Words by Rosie Cattrell.

It goes without saying that Cornwall has a rich history in the fishing industry dating back millennia, but when it comes to the preserving of fish there is a charming history that you may not be so familiar with. In 2022 the Cornish Canning Co. became the first cannery in Cornwall since the Mevagissey Fish Factory in the 1940s, where salted fish, including sardines (or pilchards as they are often referred to here in Cornwall), were packed into crates to be preserved.

While tins of Cornish pilchards from The Pilchard Works are available all over the country in huge quantities (which are tinned in Brittany in one of the oldest fish canneries in the world), for more than 15 years, Chris ‘Ranger’ has been dreaming of setting up a much smaller cannery in Mylor, near Falmouth, where he has been gathering the wild Cornish Native Oysters aboard his traditional Truro River Oyster Boat, better known as the Falmouth Working Boat, and then processing them at his purification centre right on the quay alongside the Fal Fishery. Once purified for a minimum of 42 hours, the oysters could be branded as the equally unique ‘Fal Oyster’ with its Protected Designation of Origin food name.

But for the unique sailing fishing fleet on the Fal Estuary, whose prized catch is the native oyster (Ostrea edulis), the sorts of landings that are demanded today are not as easy to gather, as Ranger explains: “I am truly passionate about our unique sailing fleet and the Fal Fishery that provides us with its equally unique native oyster, but despite the unique selling points, I am disappointed that most of our catch gets exploited, exported, and rebranded. As other oyster fisheries have collapsed, they have relied on our stock to meet their demand, and in our industry there is a lot more effort and investment needed to create the brand as a whole and the infrastructure required to simplify the distribution chain, which ultimately ensures the fishery is both sustainable and viable for the long term.”

Shellfish is extremely perishable, but stored correctly oysters can last from three to seven days. “I’ve rarely exported my catch,” Ranger continues, “focusing instead on local and national pop-up oyster bars, as well as serving oysters at some quite prestigious weddings and the UK hospitality market where the oysters are only sold on the menu with their rightful name, ensuring our fishery gets the recognition it deserves, and the added value can be put back into our local economy.” 

Thanks to the Fal Fishery Cooperative CIC and its application to the Co-op Foundation’s Carbon Innovation Fund in 2021-22, and over 100 Crowdfunder supporters, Ranger was able to propose his idea for a new market. With a 5-rated kitchen already in his possession, this was converted into a cannery, on which he kindly elaborates: “I developed the concept of canning our shellfish in small batches, a service that is available not just to other oyster gatherers, but local food producers too, and I’m more than happy to help anyone with an idea for a canned product.”

Subsequently, Ranger gained two conditional approvals, and so began the production of very small batches of canned shellfish for testing. On 31st March 2023 he made his mark in history as Cornwall’s first cannery since the 1940s, and would eventually launch the Cornish Canning Co. inaugural product, Cornish Rock Oysters, at his now iconic oyster bar at the Rock Oyster Festival in July 2023.

Today, the canned shellfish range now includes Cornish Rope Grown Mussels, Cornish Native Oysters, and Cornish Queen Scallops, alongside a fully tested and approved new Cornish Tinned Fish range, featuring Cornish Pilchards, Cornish Mackerel, Cornish Hake, Cornish Haddock, and coming very soon, Cornish Tuna, an incredible feat for Cornwall’s first canned fish in almost 80 years! “I know the cans are not the cheapest,” Ranger admits, “but I pride myself in fishing sustainably, paying a fair price to the hardworking skippers and crews, paying the team to weigh grade the shellfish which gives it an added value. I also purify, process, cut out and cook everything by hand, not to mention all the essential data analysis which makes sure the products are safe, and using solar energy during the manufacturing process, so it is an incredible amount of labour and I want that added value to stay in the local economy as much as possible.

I don’t want to compete against supermarket prices for canned fish, nor against other farmed oyster companies. I want to create a small-batch and sustainable artisan product; I want to preserve our catch, reduce food waste and return the empty but carbon-sequestered shell to the habitat, which provides essential substrate for the next generations of larvae. Added to the fact that the aluminium can is 100% recyclable, there is a 95% reduced delivery carbon footprint, and the ambient-temperature long shelf life means there is no energy required to store them.”

As the current Falmouth Oyster Shucking Champion 2023, the holder of the Oyster Festival Harbour Race Trophy for many years, and the winner of the prestigious Silver Oyster Race Trophy, success certainly seems to be on the cards for Ranger, on which he shares his thoughts: “The latest win is hopefully just the first for the cannery. In December I entered the two all year-round products, Cornish Rock Oysters and Cornish Mussels, to the Taste of the West 2024 Food Awards and was absolutely thrilled when both won gold!” With award-winning products like this under the roof of an award-winning company, the future certainly looks bright for Ranger and The Cornish Canning Co., and I can’t wait to taste whatever comes next from the new Cornish brand with true sustainability at its heart.


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