First native oyster restoration hatchery in England will restore millions of oysters to the Solent

3 oysters being held in a hand

The hatchery will produce a million native oysters that could transform the Solent’s water quality and increase its marine biodiversity.

  • 23 March 2021
  • 3 min read

The country’s first oyster restoration hatchery has opened in the Solent on the south coast of England. The hatchery, opened by the University of Portsmouth and Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE), will provide a million native oysters a year for a restoration project that could transform the Solent’s water quality and increase its marine biodiversity.

The native oyster is almost extinct in many areas around Europe, including in the Solent, having declined by over 90 per cent since the 1800s due to human impacts. This new hatchery overcomes a major barrier to oyster restoration by providing a reliable source of native oysters. The hatchery is aiming to produce a million oysters in its first year alone, providing a lifeline to the Solent’s native oyster population.

When returned the oysters will provide a host of benefits such as keeping our waters clean and providing food and habitat for countless marine species.

The biggest barrier to restoration of the native oyster, Ostrea edulis, is the lack of oysters, so we need to breed more oysters, but in a way that preserves genetic diversity, harnesses disease resistance, but doesn't spread disease.

Dr Joanne Preston, Reader in Marine Ecology and Evolution

Jacob Kean-Hammerson, Restoration Projects Manager at BLUE, said: “The installation of this hatchery represents a step-change for the restoration of native oysters in the Solent and further afield. The oysters reared in this hatchery will be used to reseed the Solent for many years, scaling up restoration efforts and helping to see the previously abundant oyster populations flourish once more.”

The hatchery will also allow further research into ensuring that the oysters are disease resistant without any loss of genetic variation or adaptation to local environmental conditions. The facility will help to improve understanding of the ecology and biology of the native oyster and improve restoration-rearing techniques.

Dr Joanne Preston, Reader in Marine Ecology and Evolution at the University of Portsmouth, said: “The biggest barrier to restoration of the native oyster, Ostrea edulis, is the lack of oysters, so we need to breed more oysters, but in a way that preserves genetic diversity, harnesses disease resistance, but doesn't spread disease. We looked at hatcheries that have been instrumental to Ostrea species restoration success in the USA and Australia and built on the UK's heritage in shellfish production to develop a hatchery to enable us to scale up restoration in the Solent.”

The oysters reared in this hatchery will be used to reseed the Solent for many years, scaling up restoration efforts and helping to see the previously abundant oyster populations flourish once more.

Jacob Kean-Hammerson, Restoration Projects Manager at BLUE

Juvenile oysters reared in the hatchery will be released into areas of the Solent closed to fishing, allowing the native oyster population to bounce back. Oyster reefs were once abundant around the British Isles and the oyster fishery in the Solent was once the largest in Europe. However, a combination of over-extraction, disease, pollution and invasive species saw the collapse of the oyster population and the fishery, which eventually closed in 2013.

Numerous restoration projects are taking place around Europe for the native oyster, but supply issues surrounding the lack of oysters that are biosecure, genetically diverse and locally adapted is the main limiting factor in almost every project. It is hoped that the Solent Oyster Restoration hatchery will solve this problem in the Solent and could act as a blueprint for other restoration projects throughout Europe. The hatchery is based at the University’s Institute of Marine Sciences in Langstone Harbour and the work being carried out is the next step for BLUE’s Solent Oyster Restoration Project.

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