At least 200 fishermen involved in the Solent’s biggest thriving oyster industry faced the biggest threat to their livelihood in nearly 100 years.
The threat came from European sting winkles – snails which drill holes in oyster shells and eat the contents. Oyster beds were decimated by the species in 1890.
At the height of the five-month oyster season, one-inch tall snails were breeding fast and attacking the shellfish, worth £500,000-per-year in exports alone.
The Southern Sea Fisheries Committee warned that the snails – Ocenebra Erinacea – were 60-80 thick on each metre of the beds.
Members of the committee who met amid the issue, were recommended to sponsor a three-year student research project into problems caused by this species of winkle.
A spokesman at the committee headquarters at Parkstone, on the Isle of Wight, said that there was very little scientific knowledge about the snail.
‘When an oyster bed develops, you are providing fodder for winkles. They pose a very considerable threat – and one which even causes problems to the livelihood of oyster men.’