Maorach Beag (Gaelic: Little Shellfish) is a small sustainable Scottish business cultivating oysters in Wester Ross, Scotland.
One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is sitting in a boat with my Father, his cousin and their friends. They were all dressed in diving suits and I can remember all the scallops lying on the deck of the boat.
Ever since that day, I have had a strange desire to have some sort of involvement with the sea and shellfish. The desire has ‘waxed and waned’ over the years but it has always been there, and it has also evolved as time has passed as I have grown older.
At first, it was straightforward, I wanted to be a ‘scallop diver’ or at least dive for scallops. That was easy but the issue was the lack of scallops. A watershed moment cam when we went diving at Handa. This was one of my Father’s favourite spots, he assured me there would be scallops aplenty and they would be the largest I had ever seen. I remember clearly the look on his face when I returned to the surface with an empty bag. The place had been dredged clean and the seabed looked like a ploughed field.
It became obvious to me at this point that diving for scallops, and fishing in general, was akin to a hunter gather approach. Given this, is was unreliable as the search for new fertile ground would be continual, and the condition of the biomass would always be at the mercy of the worst of man’s traits, that of greed.
Can they be Farmed?
This raised a question. If wild harvesting is unreliable, what about growing scallops? This possibility has intrigued me for years, and it still does. But there is an issue with growing scallops and that is lack of a reliable seed supply. For various reasons, hatchery production of seed has not taken off and the collection of wild spat is unreliable. At one point, there was an option to buy a scallop farm but the lack of a seed supply stopped this dead in its tracks.
Still, that nagging desire to work with the sea was still there, so I started to research other shellfish. The obvious candidate was Blue Mussel but that turned out to be a low margin, high volume business, one that requires economy of scale and large capital investment. Another, interesting angle were sea urchins, at the time one Salmon farm operation was exploring growing these. That concept seemed to be far too experimental for what I was looking for, and that seems to still be the case today.
The Native Oyster
Finally I came across Oysters, and as is probably common to many people, I had thought these were something exotic and not for individuals like me. As it turns out, this is wrong on both counts, and this social myth hides the colourful history that the oyster has played in this country. However, the prospect appealed to me, especially after I found out that there was a curious native variety, The European Flat Oyster, that was, and is, under threat. It became clear that seed supply would not be an issue and so it was game on. The only thing remaining to do was find a site.
After several failed attempts, in 2014 I found what I thought would be a good site, and with the permissions secured Maorach Beag was born in 2015.
But that was only the start……
Suitability & the Circular Economy
Since then we have been on a roller-coaster of discovery, with plenty of ups and downs, but thankfully the ups have outweighed the downs.
Maorach Beag continues to evolve and gradually over time our goals and even the essence of our company has become deeply intertwined with the Native Oyster.
Now, not only are we a retail business, we are also a restoration entity, heavily involved in trying to save the Native Oyster.
But this has also had other impacts it has has highlighted to us the importance of sustainability and the developing concept of the circular economy. This has changed the fabric of the business, from the equipment we use to the boxes we use to pack oysters. We are very proud of the fact that we, with our partner Smurfit Kappa, have been able to develop a box delivery system that is made of 100% recyclable cardboard. As far as we are aware, this is a first for the seafood industry, and permits us to avoid using polystyrene, which in our view is a blight to society.
Our Themes & Values
So what values do we, Maorach Beag, hold?
In the End
I have no doubt that we shall continue to face challenges and there shall be more ups and downs along the way, but hopefully by keeping an open mind the business shall be well placed to cope, and most importantly of all, the Native Oyster shall have a future.