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The native European flat oyster (Ostrea edulis) has declined throughout its range, due to over-exploitation, a situation mirrored in oyster stocks globally. There are three remaining oyster fisheries in England (Fal, Solent, and Thames Estuary). The Fal oyster fishery though employs traditional methods, using hand-hauled dredges from rowing punts or under sail and is home to the last commercial sailing fleet in Europe. Against a backdrop of temporary closures to protect dwindling stocks in the Solent and Thames Estuary, this study considers whether the longevity of the Fal oyster fishery is linked to the traditional methods that have been employed for centuries. Using GPS tracking in combination with on board observers, we demonstrate that dredging under sail is inefficient compared to more modern mechanically powered methods that are utilised elsewhere. A review of historical landings suggests that both overall landings and fishing effort have declined. The fishery appears to have gone through cycles of over-exploitation and one closure due to disease. However, the key to the long-term survival of the Fal oyster fishery may be linked to the traditional method of dredging. It is estimated that a switch from traditional methods to modern techniques would result in a greater than 9 fold increase in effort per season. The data presented highlight this unique fishery as a counterfactual to the increases in power seen in commercial fisheries over the last century and serve as a reference point for future studies.