Scotland oyster season: Ask for natives if you pick oysters on the menu
The letter ‘r’ means oyster season is back after a four-month break.
Beds are left undisturbed during the important summer breeding months to allow the oyster larvae – spats – to be fertilised and settle. At this point, they are less desirable to eat.
But from this month they can be harvested and are back on the menu.
Fans of the slippery seafood, however, are being called on to help protect Scotland’s critically important indigenous oyster beds when they next opt for the delicacy. When eating out, they are being encouraged to ask for the native variety.
By doing this, members of the public can support native oyster bed restoration projects, said Tristan Hugh-Jones, from Loch Ryan Oyster Fishery.
“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," he said. “The more people eat and enjoy natives, the more they’ll support native oyster breeding and growing. It really is that simple."
Native oysters help marine eco-systems by providing important habitat for coastal wildlife.
The Loch Ryan fishery is the last wild native oyster fishery in Scotland, and the bed, hailed as one of the most important of its kind in Europe, has been protected by Royal Charter since 1701.
It runs the country’s only native oyster boat, The Vital Spark, crewed by local fishermen Rab Lamont and John Mills, who are in a race against time this month harvesting the thousands of Loch Ryan native oysters needed ahead of Stranraer Oyster Festival in just over a week’s time.
With almost all of the UK’s native oyster beds overfished to near-extinction in previous centuries, the oysters from Loch Ryan are used to help "re- seed” native oyster restoration projects across the UK and in Germany.
Already the fishery has seen its native oyster numbers grow from one million to 60 million over the past 30 years. But they have their eyes on increasing numbers 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,” Mr Hugh-Jones added.
If you find yourself at an oyster festival this month, make sure to keep the shell. Stranraer Oyster Festival organisers have pledged to return the shell of every native oyster consumed at the festival back to Loch Ryan as they can help provide a desirable spot in the loch for young oysters to stick to.
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