Oyster nursery to be established at Glenarm Marina to revive species

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Direct Services Committee has approved a request by Ulster Wildlife to establish an oyster nursery at Glenarm Marina.

The project will be the second of its kind in Northern Ireland. There are currently 16 restoration projects in the UK one of which is an oyster nursery at Bangor Marina.

This nursery is a micro-habitat housing 27 mature oysters that will reproduce and release the next generation of oyster larvae to settle on the seabed at Belfast Lough.  An individual oyster can release up to one million larvae per year.

It is understood an oyster nursery can improve water quality at marinas with one oyster able to filter eight litres of water an hour.

Glenarm Marina.

Councillors were told oysters from Loch Ryan in Scotland will be placed in cages and bags which will hang below the Glenarm Marina pontoons and will not be visible.

The nursery facility is expected to be installed in September and will remain in place for four years with monitoring by Ulster Wildlife.

The native oyster has reportedly suffered from over-fishing and disease and is listed as a species for conservation and restoration by the UK Government’s Biodiversity Action Group.

Exciting Project

Commenting after the meeting, Dr Dave Smyth, Ulster Wildlife, said: “Ulster Wildlife will be working with DAERA funding and the support of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to deliver this exciting project.

“Historically Glenarm and Larne Lough accommodated highly abundant native oyster beds which supported an extensive fishery.

“However, over-exploitation and reductions in water quality lead to the collapse of the entire native UK and European oyster beds which were intensely fished between the 1700 and late-1800s.

“The oyster population couldn’t sustain the intensity of the fishing pressure and the oyster beds were considered collapsed by Fishery Commissioners in 1903.

“It is hoped this project will raise awareness of the ecological benefits that the native oyster can provide to the marine environment and act a first step in returning this iconic bivalve to a region where it was once prolific.”

A report to councillors says there was an oyster fishery in Larne Lough from 1800 until 1840 when 30 boats were said to trawl the oyster beds which were “prized for significant size and weight”.

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In Belfast Lough, oyster fishing reportedly took place between 1780 and 1830 which resulted in 60,000 tonnes being landed annually. All fisheries in Northern Ireland were considered to be extinct in 1903.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter