Attention has been thus far entirely directed to the topic of fish, so that it now becomes necessary to turn to that of oysters. It will be found, however, that the actual state of affairs in connection with our oyster fisheries is not at all inspiriting. But before entering upon this matter it will perhaps lead to a better understanding of the whole question if some preliminary remarks are made upon the subject-heading. In doing so it will be most desirable to have recourse to an account given, not so long ago, by Professor Huxley - at that time Inspector of Fisheries - since he speaks with the weight of authority. Referring to the oysters in the old country, he says that during the summer and autumn months, from about May to September, according to varying circumstances, the oysters pass into a peculiar condition known to the fishermen under the name of "sick." In this state the greater number contain a whitish substance, consisting of numberless granules held together by a sort of slime. The whole is known as "white spat," and the numberless granules are really the oyster eggs. Slowly and slowly the interior of the eggs assumes a darkish hue, tinging the whole mass so much that it is then termed "black spat." Within the space of a fortnight the mass of "black spat" breaks up, and the young oyster is set free.
Mr. Frank Buckland has been fortunate enough to actually see this taking place. The oyster appears to await its opportunity, it stealthily opens its shell, and a lot of spat looking like a dense cloud is ejected. After a minute or two another cloud appears, and this is continually repeated till the performance is concluded. Myriads of young oysters thus liberated from parental control now enter upon the free swimming or locomotive stage of their existence. That is to say they remain near the surface of the sea, although incessantly moving in every direction.
After a variable time, however, they suddenly descend and attach themselves to any suitable substance, on which they at once become distinctly visible in the form of white dots. In their restless stage they are scarcely discernible by the naked eye, but they settle down so rapidly and in such numbers that they appear to fall down through the water. This is known to oyster fishermen as a "fall of spat," and we shall see that this fall of spat is an important occurrence, but that it varies greatly in different seasons.