‘Ask for natives’ call as the UK’s Native Oyster Season Opens

6 months ago
Seafood lovers are being invited to help play their part in safeguarding the UK’s critically important indigenous oyster beds by asking for native oysters when they dine out. The call comes as the native oyster season officially opens tomorrow, Friday 1st September.

Scotland’s only native oyster boat, The Vital Spark crewed by local fishermen Rab Lamont and John Mills, will then be in a race against time to harvest the thousands of Loch Ryan native oysters needed ahead of Stranraer Oyster Festival later this month.

The Loch Ryan oyster bed is one of the most important native oyster beds in Europe. It’s the last wild native oyster fishery in Scotland, and the bed has been protected by Royal Charter since 1701. Native oysters help marine ecosystems by providing important habitat for coastal wildlife. With almost all of the UK’s native oyster beds overfished to near-extinction in previous centuries, the oysters from Loch Ryan are now being used to help ‘re- seed’ native oyster restoration projects across the UK and in Germany.

Tristan Hugh-Jones of Loch Ryan Oyster Fishery said members of the public can support native oyster bed restoration by specifically asking for native oysters in restaurants. He said:

“We know that native oysters are important in marine ecosystems. In fact, right across Europe, there’s a huge amount of interest in the restoration of native oyster beds, but to do that sustainably we need to be able to sell them. Which means we need the public to ask for native oysters specifically.

“The more people eat and enjoy natives, the more they’ll support native oyster breeding and growing. It really is that simple. Stranraer Oyster Festival has done an incredible job of shining a spotlight on the ecological treasure that lies beneath the water of Loch Ryan – and demand for Loch Ryan natives is soaring.

“We’ve already seen Loch Ryan native oyster numbers grow from 1 million to 60 million over the past 30 years, which is an incredible turnaround for the species.

“Our goal is to increase the number of oysters in the loch to 100 million by 2040. We think it’s achievable, and the more demand there is, the more hands-on management of the bed we will be able to carry out to nurture that growth.”

Native oysters, Ostrea edulis, are famously only available in months that contain the letter ‘R’ (1st September to 30th April). Beds are left undisturbed during the important summer breeding months to allow the oyster larvae – spats – to be fertilised and settle.

Native oysters are distinct from the more commonly found ‘farmed’ rock oysters, being slower to grow with a flatter shell and a more refined flavour.

A healthy native oyster bed requires the oysters to be densely distributed. When an oyster is physically close to its neighbour, it fertilises the offspring well. Sustainable management of Loch Ryan oyster bed involves harvesting only the largest oysters, then returning 95% of each ‘catch’ back to a dense