RESTORING THE NATIVE OYSTER TO THE SOLENT
Morven Robertson, Simon Harding, Tim Glover and Jacob Kean-Hammerson
Blue Marine Foundation, South Building, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 1LA
Dwindling populations of the native oyster (Ostrea edulis) in Europe have meant that native oyster restoration has become a high priority at both domestic and European levels. The Solent Oyster Restoration Project spearheaded by the Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) alongside the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority aims to restore the native oyster populations to the Solent, a body of water on the Southern coast of England. Oysters have been harvested in the Solent for centuries but commercial fishing with mobile gear began in the middle of the 19th century. As recently as the 1970s the native oyster fishery in the Solent was the largest in Europe supporting hundreds of fishermen. However, the oyster population declined drastically over 30 years until the fishery was closed in 2013.
Food provision is only one of a suite of ecosystem services that native oysters can provide for inshore waters. BLUE, alongside a coalition of key stakeholders and partners (fishermen, marine and local authorities, scientists and conservationists) has developed and implemented a five year management plan to restore the native oyster to the Solent. In 2017, in conjunction with Ben Ainslie Racing, MDL Marinas, and the universities of Portsmouth and Southampton BLUE initiated an oyster broodstock programme beneath mooring pontoons around the Solent. Initial results have been impressive with low oyster mortality and high levels of biodiversity associated with the caged oysters.
The project will address restoration in a number of ways by also restoring seabed sites, creating oyster sanctuaries and developing alternative oyster sources for fishermen. By 2022 BLUE aims to introduce 5 million oysters to the Solent, restoring native oyster bed habitat and making significant steps towards a sustainably managed oyster fishery.