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Disaster Looms for Solent Oyster Industry

UK - The once-thriving oyster industry in the Solent - off the southern English coast - is about to collapse.

The Solent's once thriving oyster industry is on the verge of collapse, fishermen and scientists have warned. With the annual oyster season beginning on Monday, the Daily Echo can reveal stocks have reached an all-time low.

There are dire warnings that if drastic action is not taken immediately the Solent’s oyster beds could soon be barren.

It would spell the end of a lucrative 37-year export industry and be a financial disaster for local fishermen who pay £550 a year for an oyster licence.

Scientists are at a loss to explain why the oysters have stopped reproducing, but experienced shellfish merchants and fishermen say mismanagement is to blame.

However, the region’s chief fishery officer last night said the industry could only be saved if fishermen took responsibility for overfishing and poaching.

At its peak 20 years ago, the oyster season was worth £2 million a year when about 160 boats collectively hauled more than 1,500 tonnes.

The fishery was Europe’s largest self-sustaining population stock and the delicacy was in high demand in France, Spain and the Netherlands.

Next month, less than ten boats are expected to fish the oyster beds that lie in waters off Lymington, Lepe, Calshot, Warsash, Lee-on- the-Solent, Portsmouth, Newtown, Osborne and Ryde. And the fleet is expected to haul just a couple of hundred tonnes after the annual survey of the grounds, carried out in June, showed stock levels had reached a new low.

Shellfish scientists from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) also said the continued decline of spat (juvenile) oysters means there would be no improvement ‘in the foreseeable future’.

According to Daily Echo, the severe downturn began in the regulated oyster fishery areas in the Western Solent three years ago and has now spread to the Eastern Solent.

the Fish Site Editor

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