Bid to get famous oyster beds thriving once again
MORE details of an oyster fishery revival plan off Mumbles have been unveiled.
Marine biologist Andy Woolmer wants to lay 10,000 juveniles on the seabed in an attempt to restore the once world famous oyster fishery.
He has set up Mumbles Oyster Company Ltd and applied for a seabed licence from the Welsh Government.
Mumbles groups have offered their backing.
The proposals were first outlined last year.
Shellfish specialist Dr Woolmer has been working with Cambridge University scientists on the project.
"While there is no guarantee that the trial will work, it is hoped that growing oysters at Mumbles will result in a viable and sustainable new aquaculture industry, bringing jobs to the bay," he said.
"The project is the first of its kind in Europe where a commercial aquaculture operation is working with scientists to restore a threatened species on a commercial basis."
The area of sea identified for the oyster ranching is roughly the size of 35 rugby pitches.
Dr Woolmer said anglers and sailors would not be impeded.
The native oyster, Ostrea edulis, has been the bedrock of a shellfish industry going back to Roman times. In the late 19th century the local fishery employed hundreds, supported 200 vessels and landed nine million-plus oysters.
Oyster populations in Wales and throughout Europe suffered a serious decline in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to over-fishing and habitat loss, combined with pollution and disease. Dr Woolmer said recent studies by Swansea University had found that although a few large old oysters still exist in Swansea Bay, the population was "functionally extinct".
He said water quality in the bay had improved and that fisheries could be better managed these days.
If the ranching off Mumbles was successful, it could spread.
"The restoration of oyster beds will result in the overspill of larvae and juvenile oysters across the bay and encourage wild recruitment to other areas," said Dr Woolmer. "Mumbles Oyster Company hopes a revitalised oyster fishery could once again operate in Swansea Bay and be a source of valuable income to the local fishing industry."
Dr Woolmer, 44, of Pontardawe, warned of the threat of disease.
"We have to be so careful," he said.
In recent years a parasite has affected wild and cultivated oysters, but Dr Woolmer said it had not been found in Swansea Bay. Oysters also face threats from predatory starfish, crabs and sting winkles.
Dr Woolmer has been working closely with Mumbles Development Trust (MDT) and is seeking a European fisheries grant.
If he receives the seabed licence he plans to lay the 10,000 oysters this winter, and put down cockle shell to try to recruit wild oysters in the spring.
"If it works, it's going to be great," he said.
Catherine Walsh, joint owner of Patricks with Rooms, Mumbles Road, said: "I think it's absolutely fantastic."
She said last year's Mumbles Oyster Festival had revived a love of the shellfish.
"People were queuing for them," she said. "We had to find oysters from anywhere we could!"
Oystermouth councillor Tony Colburn said: "Oyster fishing was extremely important in this area. Its oysters were world famous."
MDT development officer Terry Scales said he has been hooked on the oyster revival idea for years.
"The oysters and local inshore fisheries could provide apprenticeships and jobs for youngsters in conservation work and fishing," he said.