They are a rare Scottish delicacy in high demand at top restaurants around the world.

Scotland’s native oysters are one of the jewels in the crown of the country’s food and drink industry, but over-harvesting means there is now just one last remaining fishery commercially producing the shellfish.

Loch Ryan, near Stranraer, is home to the precious native oyster bed, which famously can only be harvested during months with an ‘R’ in them to avoid the summer breeding season.

The first catch of the season was landed on Sunday and a race is now on to gather a tonne of the oysters over the next ten days in time for the Stranraer Oyster Festival.

Allan Jenkins, project manager for Stranraer Development Trust, the community organisation responsible for the oyster festival, joined fishermen for the first catch.

He said: “It was fantastic to be out on the Vital Spark oyster boat at the start of the native oyster season, and to get a personal oyster fishing lesson direct from Scotland’s native oyster experts.

“The story of these oysters is just fascinating, and it’s great to hear they’re in such high demand in some of the world’s top restaurants.

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“Before Stranraer Oyster Festival started three years ago it was almost impossible to find these in Scotland. A big part of Stranraer Oyster Festival is about making our iconic local produce accessible to local people and visitors alike, and we are once again looking forward to introducing more people to native oysters in just over a week’s time.”

Approximately 10,000 oysters will be caught for the festival and enjoyed by the thousands of visitors travelling to Stranraer for the event, which takes place from September 13 to 15.

The three-day celebration aims to make native oysters accessible and available to local people and visitors - not just customers in prestigious restaurants.

Romano Petrucci, chair of Stranraer Development Trust, said: “We are delighted to work closely with Loch Ryan Oyster Fishery who have supported Stranraer Oyster Festival from the very first spark of an idea into what has now become one of Scotland’s most exciting food festivals.

“It is a privilege for the festival team to be involved in landing the first native oysters of the season. As we put the finishing touches to this year’s remarkable oyster festival it’s a real honour to spend a few hours on the Vital Spark experiencing the beauty and the majesty of this loch and learning more about the precious oysters hidden beneath its waters.

“They truly are the jewels in Stranraer’s crown and we are looking forward to sharing them with visitors to Stranraer Oyster Festival.”

Once widespread in Scotland, native oysters have come close to extinction due to over-harvesting and disease.

When a native oyster bed is lost, it is also incredibly difficult to re-establish because juvenile oysters need to ‘settle’ on mature oysters in order to grow.

This means that as well as being a commercial fishery, Loch Ryan is also a conservation project.

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It is protected from over-fishing by a Royal Charter granted in 1701 and over the course of the season, 95% of the oysters caught are returned to the water to encourage breeding and support the growth of the oyster bed.

Stranraer Oyster Festival is part of Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight, which launched yesterday.

The coastal food festival programme is headlined by Scottish chef Tony Singh and includes cookery and cocktail demonstrations, live music, artisan produce and family activities, as well as an ayster shucking competition.

Councillor Adam Wilson, Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Events Champion, said: “Dumfries and Galloway Council is delighted to support the third Oyster Festival.

“The Festival’s success over the last few years has been thanks to the Development Trust, many volunteers and the local community.

“This year’s Festival once again will celebrate Loch Ryan, our local food and drink industry and provide a huge economic boost for Stranraer and the wider Wigtownshire area.”

Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, added: “EventScotland is delighted to be supporting the Stranraer Oyster Festival again through our National Events Programme, showcasing the town’s native oyster heritage.

“Scotland is the perfect stage for events, and the festival will undoubtedly prove popular with visitors and locals alike who will get the chance to sample some of Scotland’s best seafood as well as enjoy a fantastic programme of cookery demonstrations, live music and children’s activities.”

Anyone looking for more information on the festival should visit where the full programme of events can be downloaded.