Researcher finds ‘extinct’ oysters in Firth of Forth Published: 06 November, 2009
A University of Stirling researcher has discovered live oysters in the Firth of Forth, more than 50 years after they were declared extinct in the area, on the east coast of Scotland.
Dr Liz Ashton, a research fellow at the Institute of Aquaculture in Stirling, made the discovery while investigating the possibility of restoring oysters to the river, and gives real hope that there could eventually be commercial farming of the shellfish.
At its peak, the Firth of Forth oyster fishery produced more than 30 million oysters a year, but that was in the early 19th century when Charles Darwin went out with the boats from Newhaven while studying in Edinburgh. Over-harvesting caused the fishery to collapse by 1920, and surveys of the Firth of Forth in 1957 reported that oysters were biologically extinct.
This discovery that they are not, after all, extinct has major implications for fisheries in Scotland as Dr Ashton’s discovery comes as she was working with Dr Janet Brown, head of the Shellfish Unit, on an initial strategy for the feasibility, technical aspects and regulatory framework of a project to restore native oysters, with a long term view of making them commercially viable.
Dr Ashton found two oysters about 100 metres apart, visible at a very low tide on the south side of the river, but there is a likelihood there are more of them out there. She recalled: ‘I was walking along the slippery stones by the water’s edge and then spotted what I thought could be an oyster. The tide was still going out so I had to wait a while, and confirm it was a specimen of native oyster.’ She measured them and took photographs, then left them to let the returning tide wash over them.
David Donnan, senior fisheries advisory officer for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), said: ‘The native oyster is part of SNH’s Species Action Framework, a five-year programme of conservation work co-ordinated by SNH. One of the objectives of the framework is to attempt the restoration of oyster populations in areas where they were formerly abundant. The University of Stirling are carrying out this work with funding from the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum, SNH and the Crown Estate. This news bodes well for future attempts to return the native oyster to its former status on the Forth.’