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Scottish native oysters: from food of the poor to potential socio-economic boon

Restoring Ostrea edulis beds can bring socio-economic value to areas of Scotland
"This report identifies several actions to realise the benefits and opportunities arising from a potential Scottish native oyster aquaculture industry"

A new report commissioned by the Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW) estimates that the restoration of native oyster beds in Scotland has the potential to give a £3.5m boost to the UK economy and create jobs in some of the most economically marginal areas of the Western and Northern Highlands and Islands, bringing not only economic but social value to areas depopulated by migration and struggling with an ageing demographic.

European native oysters (Ostrea edulis), once considered a poor man’s food, were almost fished to extinction in the 19th and early 20th century, with associated losses of marine habitats for many other species including shell and fin fish.

Difficulties and costs of native oyster aquaculture have meant that for the last 30 years, commercial oyster aquaculture in the UK has focused on the faster-growing non-native Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas). However, the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP) project established by The Glenmorangie Company is restoring 40 hectares of native oyster reef off the shore at Dornoch, with measurable economic benefits including a lift to small and medium enterprises in the area.

The report analyses the experience of the DEEP project and discusses how the production of disease-free native oysters in high-quality shellfish waters could boost Scotland’s national produce offering. It also highlights that a Scottish native oyster industry could supply into the growing European restoration market and an existing, but currently very small, worldwide market for native oysters.

The report's author, Hazel Allen, said: “The DEEP approach and consideration of oyster restoration has provided complementary opportunities to enhance the delivery of policies set by the Scottish Government such as Aquaculture Growth to 2030, Ambition 2030, the Hydro Nation Strategy and Zero Waste strategies and the water quality environmental objectives set by SEPA.

“This report identifies several actions to realise the benefits and opportunities arising from a potential Scottish native oyster aquaculture industry.

“For that, we’ll need to promote closer policy integration and working between government agencies and delivery bodies to develop a collective policy approach for the integration of ecosystem benefits and their multiple values.”

Hamish Torrie, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for The Glenmorangie Company added: "We are very pleased that this report by Hazel Allen, supported by CREW, has shone a spotlight on the opportunity to collaborate alongside ourselves and our DEEP partners, Heriot-Watt and The Marine Conservation Society, on a ‘Blue Economy’ opportunity based on environmental enhancement through native oyster reef restoration."

The report Towards an Economic Value of Native Oyster Restoration in Scotland: Provisioning, Regulating and Cultural Ecosystem Services is available on the CREW website.

Funded by the Scottish Government, CREW is a partnership between the James Hutton Institute and Scottish higher education institutes, supported by the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS). For details see

Press and media enquiries: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, James Hutton Institute, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.