AN Isle of Barra oyster farming business, in which family-owned Scottish food group AP Jess has acquired a majority interest, is targeting expansion after receiving nearly £500,000 of public funding.

A spokesman for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which has awarded funding of £490,000 to help the oyster business as it expands production and targets growth in domestic and ultimately international markets, said AP Jess had acquired a 70 per cent stake in the venture.

Traigh Mhor Oysters has been established as a new venture between AP Jess and Isle of Barra Oysters. HIE noted Traigh Mhor had purchased the full share issue of Isle of Barra Oysters.

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The HIE spokesman said that the three people behind Isle of Barra Oysters, brothers Gerard and Martin MacDonald and Donald Macleod, each had a 10 per cent stake in the new business.

He noted that Traigh Mhor Oysters now employed six people on a full-time basis.

The spokesman added that Isle of Barra Oysters, founded in 2009, had previously employed three people in part-time roles.

Traigh Mhor Oysters is investing in stock and new equipment as it gears up to meet demand from Scotland and elsewhere in the UK.

HIE highlighted plans by the company, as oyster production grew, to explore international markets such as France, Spain and countries in the Far East. The agency noted that demand for live shellfish was growing in these overseas markets.

David Jess, of AP Jess, said: “We are delighted at our new venture with our partners on Barra and are looking forward to a new stage in the development of AP Jess. Barra is a beautiful Island and one advantage of the site in Barra is that it's remote from any possible contaminants.

“The waters are absolutely pristine, which gives a great marketing opportunity and it's great to know that people can enjoy the oysters in as fresh a condition as possible.”

HIE said Traigh Mhor was currently farming around six million oysters. Another four million will be added this year as the infrastructure is developed. The oysters feed on natural plankton.