43. The Native Oyster (Ostrea Edulis) Wildlife of The Solway
For some lovers of seafood there is nothing to compare with a plate of fresh oysters washed down with champagne , Guinness or another tipple of choice. They could certainly be described as an acquired taste and because supply is limited they are also relatively expensive, giving them the reputation of a food for the wealthy gourmet. This never used to be the case, in fact so plentiful were oysters in the past there were byelaws restricting how many times in a week they could be served up to factory workers! They were particularly plentiful on the Scottish side of the Solway Firth and even today Loch Ryan has the region’s only commercial oyster fishery. However, a nationwide combination of overfishing, disease and water quality issues led to greatly diminished availability and today even if supply is recovering the public taste has not grown back to what it was.
The Oyster is a filter feeder, favouring sheltered estuarine waters that are rich with phtyo plankton many months of the year. They are left undisturbed during months with an ‘R’ , in part to allow them to recover from spawning and to help ensure the next generation establishes. The native oyster is slow growing and may be ten years old to reach market size, the age being calculated by counting the growth rings which are clearly visible on the shell. For this reason most oysters on the market today are the imported Pacific variety which grow in our waters more than twice as fast as the natives, but rarely breed as the water temperatures here are too low.