Those more familiar with salad tongs and pasta tongs might be surprised to discover that oyster tongs are not tools for serving or eating oysters. Rather, oyster tongs are tools used for harvesting oysters from the sea. Oysters are typically found sitting on top of the sand and muck in shallow waters, where they filter food such as algae from the water. In order to get at them conveniently and in large numbers, oyster tongs are designed like a pair of garden rakes joined with a scissor hinge.
Using oyster tongs requires a good bit of skill and strength, not to mention a homicidal attitude toward oysters. The little buggers look and feel like piles of rocks on the sand, and gently dragging the tines of the rake across the sand will reveal their presence by feel.
Once the tasty mollusks are located, the hard work starts. Gripping the handles of the tongs firmly with both hands, you squeeze them closed, dragging the stony creatures together and trapping them in the tines. This requires great pectoral strength, and apparently a long, hard day of oyster tonging can be quite a workout, especially using the 13-foot version!
Once the tines are closed, any sand slips through the gaps between the tines, leaving the larger oysters trapped to haul up into the boat. With luck, many oysters can be trapped with each pass. Then the oysters are sorted, and any smaller than regulation oysters, actual rocks, and other debris are tossed overboard back into the water. Empty shells and ones that are too small should be thrown back into the same spot they were taken from, since oysters live in piled groups. The oysters are of course taken aboard alive, the oyster tongs are rough and indelicate but nothing their hard shells can't handle.
Other, similar tools include:
- Oyster dredge
- A basket with teeth on the bottom of the opening, intended to be dragged across the sea floor behind a boat.
- Basket rake
- A basket with teeth on the front, but with a handle, intended to be used in a similar manner to tongs but the basket means the scissor action is unnecessary.
- Clam rake
- Very similar to oyster tongs, but with longer tines, since unlike oysters, clams tend to bury themselves in the sand.
Thanks to doyle for additional information