New guidance provides advice for native oyster restoration in Scotland - NatureScot

New guidance published by NatureScot today provides advice for efforts to reintroduce native oysters to areas where they have become extinct in Scotland, as well as to protect and expand the species in areas where they retain a foothold.

Native oyster and starfish. Credit NatureScot-2
Native oyster and starfish. Credit NatureScot-2

European native oysters, also known as flat oysters, once lived widely in Scottish waters with figures in the millions and possibly in the billions.

People have harvested or cultivated the native oyster for centuries. But with the industrial revolution, demand for cheap food and technological advancements such as steam trains providing quicker routes to market, oysters quickly became extinct in some areas. The oysters once supported many fisheries in several areas of Scotland, most notably the Firth of Forth. At its peak, at the turn of the 19th century, the fishery covered an area larger than the City of Edinburgh and produced 30 million oysters per year, many of which were exported to England and continental Europe.

Today, only scattered and in many cases, small populations, of native oysters survive around the west coast and islands and fringing our sea lochs, with east coast populations eradicated. Native oysters are still threatened today - for example by illegal harvesting for consumption and the parasite, Bonamia ostreae. As a result, native oysters and their habitats are protected in a number of ways, including being classified as a Scottish Priority Marine Feature (PMF) and as a protected feature of the Loch Sween Marine Protected Area (MPA). They are one of 11 PMFs regarded as most vulnerable to seabed disturbance. Native oysters are also on the OSPAR list of Threatened and/or Declining Species and Habitats.

Native oysters are seen as an ecosystem engineer, providing important habitat for other species, including vital nursery and foraging areas. A single oyster shell has been shown to provide habitat for more than 100 species. Populations of native oysters may also help to stabilise sediment and improve water quality.

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Posted On: 15/05/2024

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