Scotland’s native oyster season opened yesterday, Sunday 1st September 2019, with the landing of the first Loch Ryan oysters of the season. Famously native oysters can only be harvested in months with an ‘R’ in them, avoiding the summer breeding season.
A two week race is now on to gather a tonne of native oysters, approx. 10,000, most of which will be enjoyed by the thousands of visitors travelling to Stranrarer Oyster Festival, taking place from Friday 13th to Sunday 15th September. However, Scotland’s native oyster fishermen will return 95% of all the oysters they catch back to the sea to help Loch Ryan’s precious native oyster bed to grow.
Former footballer, Allan Jenkins, now Project Manager for Stranraer Development Trust, the community organisation that runs the oyster festival, landed the first catch of the season. He commented:
“It was fantastic to be out on the Vital Spark oyster boat at the start of the native oyster season, and to get a personal oyster fishing lesson direct from Scotland’s native oyster experts. The story of these oysters is just fascinating, and it’s great to hear they’re in such high demand in some of the world’s top restaurants.
“Before Stranraer Oyster Festival started three years ago it was almost impossible to find these in Scotland. A big part of Stranraer Oyster Festival is about making our iconic local produce accessible to local people and visitors alike, and we are once again looking forward to introducing more people to native oysters in just over a week’s time.”
Romano Petrucci, Chair of Stranraer Development Trust, said:
“We are delighted to work closely with Loch Ryan Oyster Fishery who have supported Stranraer Oyster Festival from the very first spark of an idea into what has now become one of Scotland’s most exciting food festivals.
“It is a privilege for the festival team to be involved in landing the first native oysters of the season. As we put the finishing touches to this year’s remarkable oyster festival it’s a real honour to spend a few hours on the Vital Spark experiencing the beauty and the majesty of this loch and learning more about the precious oysters hidden beneath its waters. They truly are the jewels in Stranraer’s crown and we are looking forward to sharing them with visitors to Stranraer Oyster Festival.”
Stranraer Oyster Festival is a 3 day celebration of the town’s native oyster heritage, making Scottish native oysters accessible and available for local people and visitors to experience. The coastal food festival programme is headlined by Scotland’s spice king Tony Singh. The packed programme of events includes the #ShuckOff, where more than a dozen of Scotland’s top seafood chefs will compete to be named Scottish Oyster Shucking Champion. There’s also a host of cookery and cocktail demonstrations, live music, artisan produce and family activities; including the harbour-side Extreme Pond Dipping challenge, where children can explore creatures found at the bottom of Loch Ryan.
Councillor Adam Wilson, Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Events Champion, said:
“Dumfries and Galloway Council is delighted to support the third Oyster Festival. The Festival’s success over the last few years has been thanks to the Development Trust, many volunteers and the local community. This year’s Festival once again will celebrate Loch Ryan, our local food and drink industry and provide a huge economic boost for Stranraer and the wider Wigtownshire area.”
Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, said:
“EventScotland is delighted to be supporting the Stranraer Oyster Festival again through our National Events Programme, showcasing the town’s native oyster heritage. Scotland is the perfect stage for events, and the festival will undoubtedly prove popular with visitors and locals alike who will get the chance to sample some of Scotland’s best seafood as well as enjoy a fantastic programme of cookery demonstrations, live music and children’s activities.”
Stranraer Oyster Festival is part of Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight, the two week promotion of Scottish produce which launched yesterday. The festival includes a celebration of local and regional artisan produce, which has been supported by Connect Local’s Regional Food Fund.
Stranraer Oyster Festival takes place on 13-15th September 2019 and tickets are already selling fast. The exclusive An Evening with Tony Singh event has already sold out, and only a few tickets remain for the Big Oyster Bash. People wanting to attend Tony Singh’s cookery demos are advised to book early. The full programme can be downloaded from www.stranraeroysterfestival.com .
About Scottish Native Oysters
The native oyster was once widespread around Scotland and much of the UK but has been harvested to near extinction. Loch Ryan, next to Stranraer in south west Scotland, is home to Scotland’s last remaining native oyster fishery, protected from over-fishing by a Royal Charter granted in 1701 to the Wallace family, who still hold it to this day.
Native oysters are sometimes known as ecosystem engineers because they help maintain marine ecosystems by filtering water and providing habitat for coastal wildlife. However once a native oyster bed has been lost, it is incredibly difficult to re-establish. This is because the juvenile oysters need to ‘settle’ on mature oysters in order to grow.
Loch Ryan Oyster Fishery is a conservation project as much as it is a commercial oyster fishery, returning 95% of each catch to the water, gradually dispersing the oysters across the floor of the sea loch to encourage breeding and to support the growth of the oyster bed.