Early plans have been unveiled for a huge oyster farm in the Cromarty Firth which could create a “marine centre of excellence” and rekindle a traditional local industry.
Alan MacKenzie, director of Cromarty Mussels, wants to expand his oyster farm from 5,000 trestle metres – a trestle is used to hang the oysters until they are ready to be harvested – to 72,000 trestle metres within an area of about 48 acres.
Black Isle councillor Craig Fraser praised the concept which was recently revealed at a recent public drop-in meeting held by Mr MacKenzie at the old Cromarty Brewery.
Mr Fraser was told the hope is to enter discussions with several universities to highlight marine research opportunities at the site.
He added: “I am very encouraged by this project. In the future it could be a centre of excellence.
“Anything that promotes aquaculture and brings the potential for local coastal rural jobs to this area is always welcomed. We need people to come up with ideas like this.
“If the project gets the go-ahead, things like this help with the wider employment of coastal rural areas. We would be looking at three to four full-time equivalent people plus sponsors as well, in the long term. This has got to be good news. Every job in a coastal rural economy is the equivalent of 10 jobs in the city.
“It’s getting back to our rural communities doing what they are best at and working with the land and working with nature.” He added that the objective of the development would be to work with the environment, not against it.
Shellfish improve water quality and clarity by removing particulates, excess nutrients, organic material, viruses, and bacteria from the water column.
Improved water clarity enhances the habitat for sea grasses such as eelgrass and other submerged aquatic vegetation. A proposal of application notice for the oyster farm expansion was received by Highland Council’s planning department on September 4.
The plans for Cromarty Bay would fit in with Scotland’s National Marine Plan, which sets out a national strategy to ensure sustainable economic growth while protecting the environment. The Scottish Government has designated the Cromarty Bay area of the firth as a Shellfish Water Protected Area.
Scottish shellfish production was dominated by farmed blue mussel production at 7,732 tonnes in 2016. About 3,534,00 Pacific oyster shells, 201,000 native oyster shells and 155,000 queen scallop shells were also grown last year.