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Suspension of the native oyster fishery in the Foyle area will continue for another month, with the closure extended until 6pm on Sunday 31 March.

The Loughs Agency says it made the decision following an analysis of the latest stock assessment data, which it says highlights the need to prioritise conservation.

“It is not a decision we have taken lightly,” Loughs Agency chief executive Sharon McMahon said. “We are fully aware of the impact that this will have on our native oyster fishery stakeholders in relation to the fishing of oysters in Lough Foyle.

“However, it is imperative that we take decisions in a science-led approach with the future sustainability of the fishery and the viability of the oyster population in mind.”

McMahon said Lough Agency marine scientists “made clear that removal of 100% of the stock above the minimum landing size is not sustainable, and removing a large proportion of stock over 80mm this season could have a detrimental impact on future recruitment to the population.

“Our remit as a regulatory body allows us to make informed management decisions such as this in real-time, which will help maintain a sustainable fishery for the future.”

Scientific data from the latest stock assessment can be found below:

Biomass summary

Population summary

Flatground summary

Great Bank summary

Perch summary

Quigleys Point summary

Southside North summary

Southside South summary

Published in Loughs Agency

Following the launch of the Isle of Wight’s first oyster regeneration project in October last year, the United Kingdom Sailing Academy (UKSA) has now made it part of the sustainability modules on its education courses.

UKSA worked in partnership with Blue Marine Foundation and Cowes Harbour Commission to get the baskets and the initial oyster stock to Cowes in the River Medina.

The project will facilitate the release of millions of oyster larvae into the Solent, while also providing refuge for other marine wildlife including endangered European eels, young seahorses and sea bass.

With sustainability a part of its course curriculum for Maritime Foundation Year 1 for the last three years, the sail training charity has now introduced it to all of its NCFE Outdoor and Adventurous Activities courses.

As part of the module, the students will undertake work on understanding sustainability and impact on the environment as well as taking away knowledge of geographical forces that influence landscape development and explore ecosystems and the factors which influence ecology.

They will also learn about the impact of using the countryside, how to approach sustainable recreational use of the countryside and understand organisations associated with conserving the environment.

The first oysters were placed in baskets beneath UKSA’s pontoons in autumn and the students will be checking on the oysters and the cages, as well as measuring their growth.

UKSA students learn how to make a check-up on the Cowes oysters by taking measurements to track their progress, among other metrics | Credit: UKSAUKSA students learn how to make a check-up on the Cowes oysters by taking measurements to track their progress, among other metrics | Credit: UKSA

As ecosystem engineers, the oysters will provide a range of benefits to the environment and people such as improving water quality, with a single oyster able to filter up to 200 litres of water every day. They also act as a natural defence to coastal erosion.

Despite the last known oyster fishery on the Isle of Wight closing in the 1970s, between 1972 and 2006, the Solent supported the largest native oyster fishery in Europe. However, the oyster population has declined significantly and the fishery collapsed in 2013.

Native oyster reefs in the UK have declined by 95 per cent due to overfishing, pollution, disease, habitat loss and other pressures. Native oysters are classified as a priority species in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan and restoration is a high priority at a national, European and global level with an estimated 85 percent of oyster beds and reef habitats lost worldwide.

Since 2015, Blue Marine Foundation has restored over 150,000 oysters using innovative nursery systems, and creating oyster reefs has developed a strong working group in the Solent.

Similar programmes in Northern Ireland have also seen success, with the latest in Belfast Harbour showing promising results, while a new community-led initiative seeks to reintroduce them to Dublin Bay via a pilot project of ‘oyster gardens’ in Dun Laoghaire, Poolbeg and Malahide.

UKSA chief executive Ben Willows said: “The launch of the oyster regeneration project at UKSA was landmark, and it was important to us to be able to incorporate the project within UKSA as much as possible.

“A great start in making a difference in the marine environment we call home, the project is a step forward for sustainability on the island and the students having such a local reference while learning about sustainability is fantastic. The students have thoroughly enjoyed their work with the oysters so far and making their regular check-ups on the newest members to the UKSA team.”

Published in Aquaculture
Tagged under

A shellfish nursery recently installed in Belfast Harbour in an effort to revive the Northern Ireland capital’s native oysters is already showing promising results.

Last month, hundreds of oysters were lowered into the water at City Quays for the project, a joint initiative of Belfast Harbour and Ulster Wildlife following similar successful schemes in Bangor and Glenarm, as the News Letter reports.

Simon Gibson, of Belfast Harbour said the new nursery — which returns native oysters to the area after a century’s absense — “is the first in Northern Ireland in a commercial shipping channel”.

With the proper care, these oysters will grow together to form a reef — which is already in the early stages, as Ulster Wildlife’s Dr David Smyth told RTÉ News.

“Imagine 100,000 of these all stuck together; this is what we are after. From them, millions of larvae will settle around the shore and on the seabed,” he said.

The reef will also provide a habitat for a variety of other marine species, making a positive impact on marine biodiversity in the area.

The oysters will also contribute to improved water quality in the port, due to their unique ability to reduce water pollution and improve water clarity.

According to Ulster Wildlife, one native oyster can filter up to 200 litres of water per day, which is the equivalent of a bathtub.

RTÉ News has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Tagged under

The Loughs Agency has welcomed the cessation of two recent High Court cases in Dublin that it says sought to prevent the agency from effectively regulating the Lough Foyle oyster fishery.

This follows a decision by the plaintiffs to withdraw their various claims, which led to the cases being struck out.

The Loughs Agency is the statutory authority dedicated to sustainably managing, promoting and developing the fisheries and resources of the Foyle and Carlingford areas.

Loughs Agency chief executive Sharon McMahon said: “Throughout the legal proceedings, our commitment to upholding the principles of good governance and fulfilling our statutory obligations has remained unwavering. We have diligently cooperated with the legal process, providing transparency and demonstrating the strength of our position.

“This favourable outcome not only showcases the robustness of our operations but also reaffirms the legal position of our statutory responsibilities. As a trusted North South Implementation Body, we consistently strive to fulfil our responsibilities and act in the best interests of the communities we serve.”

The Loughs Agency has responsibility for 4,070 sq km of catchment in the Foyle area and 480 sq km in Carlingford, with responsibility for the two sea loughs and an area extending 12 miles out to sea from Lough Foyle, which stretches to Downhill in Northern Ireland and Malin Head in Donegal.

Its board reports to the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) and government sponsor departments: the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) in Ireland.

Published in Loughs Agency

Hundreds of native oysters have returned to Belfast Lough as part of efforts to bring the ‘ocean superheroes’ back from the brink of extinction.

The ambitious aquaculture restoration project, officially launched on Friday (20 May) by Ulster Wildlife to mark Endangered Species Day, sees approximately 700 mature oysters suspended in cages under the pontoons of Bangor Marina.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, this creates the first native oyster (Ostrea edulis) nursery of its kind on the island of Ireland.

As sea temperatures warm over the coming months, the 24 nursery cages will generate millions of oyster larvae which will settle on the seabed, helping the native oyster population recover while also boosting biodiversity and improving water quality in the lough.

Belfast Lough once supported a prolific native oyster fishery. However, overfishing, habitat loss, disease, pollution and invasive introduced species contributed to the population becoming extinct and the fishery closing in 1903.

Since then, 100 years of surveys failed to document one living specimen, until 2020 when researchers from Bangor University and Queen’s University Belfast discovered 42 live oysters at six sites around the lough.

Heidi McIlvenny, marine conservation manager at Ulster Wildlife and who is leading the project, says: “We are still unsure how or why native oysters returned to Belfast Lough, but it indicates that the environmental conditions are right for them to establish here again. But, if they are to bounce back, they need our help.

“The biggest barrier to the recovery of the native oyster is a low number of mature reproducing oysters. The nurseries we have established at Bangor Marina are full of mature oysters that will act as larval pumps, increasing the number of oysters in the Lough and helping to restore this incredible ocean superhero for years to come.”

Boosting the lough’s fragile oyster population will also bring important benefits for other marine life, Heidi says.

“A single oyster can filter up to 200 litres of seawater, equivalent to a bathtub, per day, significantly improving water quality and reducing pollution levels. The larvae once established will also create healthy native oyster reefs in the lough, providing shelter and food for an abundance of marine wildlife, including commercially fished species, along with potential carbon storage.”

Special permissions were granted to relocate the shellfish from Loch Ryan in Scotland. They were screened for disease and cleaned on arrival before being installed in the nurseries. 

Volunteers will conduct ‘health checks’ every week to ensure the oysters are thriving in their new homes. Monthly biodiversity surveys will also track changes in marine life in and around the nurseries, which form their own unique micro-habitat.

Kevin Baird, harbour master at Bangor Marina, says: “We are delighted to be supporting the recovery of our most threatened marine species.

“Housing the oyster nurseries under the pontoons is an innovative use of the space we have available and is a great opportunity for the marina to become an outdoor classroom, where people of all ages can get hands-on with marine conservation in an urban environment.”

The oyster restoration project is funded by the DAERA Challenge Fund. Find out more at ulsterwildlife.org/native-oysters

Published in Aquaculture

Interested parties are now invited to apply for a licence to fish the 2022/2023 native oyster fishery on Lough Foyle.

Applicants will be required to submit a completed application via post, which must be received on or before Friday 29 July.

It is the responsibility of the applicant to provide proof of postage in the event of a late application delivery or a missing application.

At this stage the Loughs Agency asks that only completed application forms are sent. Please do not send additional documents or payment.

Loughs Agency offices are currently closed but application forms are available for download.

The licence fee is £150 or €166 and fees payable on receipt of licence.

No late applications will be accepted without proof of postage within the stated application timeframe.

Send applications to the following address:

Oyster Licence Applications
Loughs Agency
22 Victoria Road
Derry ~ Londonderry
BT47 2AB
Northern Ireland

Telephone opening hours 9am to 5pm Monday-Friday
Tel: +44 (0) 28 71 342100
Fax: +44 (0) 28 71 342720

Published in Fishing

There are many reasons to love oysters, and now an NUI Galway scientist has suggested another one.

Apart from its nutritional benefits, the shellfish also provides a cost-effective solution to the impacts of climate change.

Natural reefs built from oysters are preferential to seawalls constructed as a flood and coastal erosion defence, according to research led by NUI Galway (NUIG) economist Prof Stephen Hynes.

Such natural reefs are not only cheaper to construct, but they have the added benefit of creating new habitats for marine life, Prof Hynes, who is director of the NUIG Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit, says.

Author Prof Stephen HynesAuthor Prof Stephen Hynes

“Nature-based solutions” to climate change are central to the European Green Deal, his research paper published in the science journal Ecological Economics notes.

Galway has long celebrated the oyster, and a coastal walk in Galway Bay was selected as a template for the study.

The coastal trail to Rinville point is three kilometres from Oranmore village in south Galway. As it lies at sea level, it is exposed to coastal flooding.

The research examined its recreational value and analysed two options for protecting it – the “hard engineering” rock armour solution versus constructing a natural reef from oysters cultivated locally.

Rinville bay was once nucleus for abundance of native oyster, dating from prehistoric times, but productive reefs have been overharvested to the extent that remaining stock is “close to functional extinction”.

However, community-based organisation, Cuan Beo, has been working with the Marine Institute on restoring the native oyster and the first effort to rebuild several oyster reefs began in late 2020.

Cuan Beo used 200 tonnes of empty Pacific oyster shells covering a 50-metre radius and one metre in height from the seabed, which was then seeded with native oyster stock.

Although these structures are not close enough to the point to protect the walk, a similar natural protective reef could be created if given legislative approval, Cuan Beo spokesman Diarmuid Kelly confirmed.

Natural oysters Natural oysters 

The oyster “bar” would be covered by sea most of the time, except at low tide, and would involve sowing seed oysters on top of empty oyster shell substrate

Prof Hynes’s study found that both protection options resulted in a positive net benefit over a 20-year time horizon.

However, the study found the nature-based solution had a benefit-cost ratio multiple times larger than the “grey infrastructure” seawall alternative.

Artificial oyster reefs have been piloted along the US Gulf Coast to protect and restore shoreline habitat and create living oyster beds, Prof Hynes notes.

The results of the research “suggest a compelling case for embedding nature-based solutions in climate adaption and flood management planning for low lying coastal areas where recreational resources are under threat”, his paper says.

“The fact that oyster reefs can also adapt to sea-level rise with vertical growth rates that are faster than the expected rate of sea-level rise also makes them a good nature-based solution,” he adds.

The full paper is here

Published in Marine Science
Tagged under

“Good news everyone”, the natives have returned...” It’s not your average title to a scientific paper, but this one has reason to celebrate - hailing the return of native oysters to Belfast Lough after a century.

The paper by Bangor University researcher David Smyth and fellow scientists was published this month in the journal Regional Studies in Marine Science.

It documents how the European flat oyster Ostrea edulis has been confirmed in small numbers in Belfast Lough, and speculates on reasons why, such as shipping movements.

Native oyster spat one year old in south Galway Bay Photo: Cuan Beo projectOne-year-old native oyster spat in south Galway Bay Photo: Cuan Beo project

Afloat reported on the unexpected return of the Belfast wild oysters last month here.

Marine Institute shellfish expert Oliver Tully spoke to Wavelengths about the significance of the find, and about how it is a reminder of the former abundance of native oysters along the east coast – an important food source along with Molly Malone’s “cockles and mussels”.

Heavy fishing, mainly by British vessels, rendered the oyster beds, which were particularly healthy off the Wicklow and north Wexford coasts, extinct. There were reports of tens of millions of oysters being exported into Britain in the mid 19th century.

Native oyster on the sea bed in south Galway Photo: Cuan Beo projectNative oyster on the sea bed in south Galway Photo: Cuan Beo project

Tully says it is also a reminder of the importance of fisheries management – at a time of much uncertainty about same in the wake of Brexit.

He is involved in several native oyster restoration projects on the west coast, from Lough Swilly in Donegal down to Tralee Bay, and including the Cuan Beo project in south Galway bay.

200 tonnes of cultch getting ready to deploy200 tonnes of cultch getting ready to deploy

You can hear more about that project and the work of Cuan Beo, as explained by Tully, Noreen Cassidy and fisherman David Krause, below in the Afloat

podcast

 

Published in Wavelength Podcast
Tagged under

Marine scientists have been baffled by the unexpected return of wild oysters to Belfast Loughas the Guardian reports.

The threatened shellfish species was last recorded in the Northern Ireland lough in the late 1800s before overfishing destroyed the native population.

However, a chance photograph of a specimen led to a full survey the past summer which discovered more than 40 European flat oysters dotted around the inlet.

And it’s believed that some of these oysters could be resident in the lough for more than 10 years.

But the question remains as to how the species was reintroduced after all this time.

One possible explanation is that reduced shoreline sediment from activity at Belfast’s port created the optimum conditions for young oysters swept in from the Irish Sea to grow.

The Guardian has more on the story HERE.

Published in Belfast Lough
Tagged under

A Polish man says he has quite literally turned oyster farming on its head - by inventing a revolutionary device that allows for three times more oysters within the same area of seabed.

Grzegorz Skawiński developed the product over two years which uniquely has a rotating cage system.

Oyster sacks are placed one above the other, rather than traditional farming of side by side on trestles, saving space on the seabed and increasing production.

And when the device rotates, it allows the oysters to move freely, aiding growth.

Normally each oyster bag is turned by hand – five in a row on a trestle. Grzegorz’s system allows 16 to be turned in one rotation.

The project currently in prototype stage has other benefits.

Along with a high-quality oyster in terms of shape and meat, the device can farm in deeper waters, previously inaccessible.

And because of the rotating system, back pain is relieved, common in the industry.

Sea pollution is also eliminated as rubber bands that hold bags in place on a trestle, are not required on the device.

He developed the product having worked in oyster farming in Co. Waterford for eight years.

He saw the potential of a new product to help with ease of farming and plastic pollution, but vitally production levels and increased profits.

Grzegorz said: “When you work with oysters, you understand intimately how farming methods work, and importantly for me, how they can be improved.

"The idea of rotation was born while working on the project. The main goal of the project was to place as many oysters as possible on the seabed surface."

Grzegorz first started on the project in 2017 and created the device for testing and research purposes.

It’s currently patented in Ireland, along with patents expected in the UK and France.

Grzegorz is now keen to move on with the next phase of the business – either to sell the licensed patent or work with a manufacturer to market the product globally.

Published in Aquaculture
Tagged under
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About the Loughs Agency

The Loughs Agency is a governmental body established under the 1998 Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland. The Agency's goal is to provide sustainable social, economic, and environmental benefits by effectively conserving, managing, promoting, and developing the fisheries and marine resources of the Foyle and Carlingford areas.

The Agency's governing legislation confers several specific functions, including the promotion of development of Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough for commercial and recreational purposes in respect of marine, fishery, and aquaculture matters. Moreover, the Agency is responsible for managing, conserving, protecting, improving, and developing the inland fisheries of the Foyle and Carlingford areas. Additionally, the Agency has the task of developing and licensing aquaculture, as well as the development of marine tourism.

The Loughs Agency reports to the North South Ministerial Council and its government Sponsor Departments, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland, and the Department of the Environment, Climate, and Communications (DECC) in Ireland. The Departments fund the Agency on an equal basis.

The Loughs Agency's focus on sustainable development is expected to have a positive impact on the economy, environment, and local communities in the Foyle and Carlingford areas. The Agency's efforts to conserve and enhance the region's marine resources, including fisheries and aquaculture, are expected to benefit local communities, promote tourism, and contribute to economic growth.

In conclusion, the Loughs Agency plays a vital role in promoting the sustainable social, economic, and environmental development of the Foyle and Carlingford areas. Its work on marine conservation and development is crucial in ensuring the long-term viability of the region's natural resources and in promoting sustainable economic growth.

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