Native oyster fishing on Foyle suspended

Native oyster fishing in Lough Foyle is to be suspended.

The Lough Foyle Native Oyster Fishery is to close in a bid to conserve the native oyster for future seasons.

The announcement was made by the Loughs Agency which has regulated the fishery since 2008.

The population of the native oyster in the lough has declined dramatically in recent years.

The Loughs Agency says the reduction is, mostly, the result of “intense fishing pressure”.

The suspension comes into effect on October 13 next and will remain in force until November 28, 2014.

Lough Foyle has been an important fishing resource for hundreds of years, supporting a fishery for native oysters (O. edulis) since before the turn of the 18th century.

Native oyster numbers, however, have been declining dramatically since the mid 1900s across most of the areas in Europe where the species is naturally found.

The Loughs Agency says the drop in native oyster numbers in Lough Foyle is likely to have been caused by a combination of fishery exploitation and poor reproduction for the last few years. In the 2013/14 fishing season, 221 tonnes of oysters were landed from Lough Foyle.

A Loughs Agency spokesperson said: “This large scale removal of oysters coupled with poor breeding success in the previous three breeding seasons has led to the current low numbers of oysters in the Lough. Continued removal of such large numbers of oysters could lead to a situation where fishing becomes unsustainable and could cause the native oyster population in Lough Foyle to become damaged beyond repair.”

In a bid to halt the decline of the native oyster in Lough Foyle, the Loughs Agency says it plans to adopt a “precautionary fishery management approach”.

The Agency will close the fishery before 100% of the oysters over 80 mm - the minimum size at which oysters can be legally fished in Lough Foyle - are fished out. The Agency plans to leave approximately 30% of the oysters over 80 mm in the Lough.

“It’s hoped these oysters will breed successfully and help re-build the population,” said an Agency spokesperson.