Island Shellfish in Northern Ireland has developed an innovative commercial micro hatchery to regenerate the European native oyster, an endangered species. 

The small company has developed breakthrough technology that enables shellfish production areas to use indigenous stocks to produce seed oysters or other shellfish including clams. 

This control over seed supply removes the need to import shellfish such as Pacific Oyster helping to protect the industry from potential diseases.

Island Shellfish, based on Larne Lough in county Antrim, once a major oyster rearing area, was formed in 1997 by Dr Don Saville, a marine parasitologist, and engineer Billy Johnston as a research project to help regenerate the native oyster sector. The company is now commercialising the research.


The new system, which has received Research and Development support from Invest Northern Ireland, is already attracting business from Hong Kong and inquiries from UK producers as well as from France, China, New Zealand, Kenya and Pakistan.

 The small business to develop and exploit original technology which could have a very beneficial impact on the wider shellfish industry in Northern Ireland and internationally.

Dr Saville says: “Our modular system offers producers the ability to scale production up quickly. It has been designed to carry out the complete operation from spawning to settled seed oysters and features a nursery system of floating trays for on-growing that protects juvenile oysters. 

This protection from predators in their vulnerable stage increases survival of oysters in the wild to over 50 per cent from the current one per cent level. 

“Mature shellfish reared from indigenous local stock reduces the risk from diseases which ravaged the industry in 1997 through the importation of seed oysters. The micro hatchery will assist the development of the shellfish industry particularly for the European Native or flat oyster.

“This species is growing in popularity with chefs and restaurateurs outside Northern Ireland because of its outstanding taste and provenance, commanding premium prices for producers.”

The micro hatchery features a portable sectional building which can be assembled quickly and easily almost anywhere. It uses floating trays– another innovation – in a tidal stream that offers juvenile shellfish the opportunity to feed on a broad range of algae producing much more robust seed oysters.

The system has been developed to help reverse the decline in native oyster areas in Europe.  France has lost 80 per cent of native oyster beds to disease and Ireland has seen 24 production areas reduced to just 4.