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Gordon Turnbull Oyster Farmer

Interview with Gordon Turnbull from Mull Oysters Ltd - September 2019 

Where do you live and where do you work?

I live near Dervaig on the Isle of Mull. I farm pacific oysters in the waters of Loch a Chumhainn.

How long have you been working at Isle of Mull Oysters Ltd?

It has been almost 10 years since I started working at Isle of Mull Oysters Ltd, a company which has existed since 1990. We have two full time members of staff and one part time, and my dad Nick who has now retired from the farm, but still comes along very occasionally to help us out.

What are the best parts of your job?

The best parts about my job are that I enjoy the challenge, the freedom and the constant improvements we make and the fact that unlike most farming there is no long tradition of oyster farming in Scotland so you really can be creative to do it in the best way you can.

I feel very lucky to be in a job which I really enjoy. I like being down at the shore where things are ever changing. It is an interesting job in a beautiful location. Each day is different and each oyster is unique in its own way.

What makes your product stand out?

The best thing about our produce is that it is sustainable and this is something we are very proud of. Oyster farming has been shown to actually improve the environment – something which is vitally important in the current environmental climate – and it also tastes fantastic!

One of the most positives things about being a shellfish farmer are the environmental benefits and the quality, freshness and uniqueness of our product. 

What changes have you seen in the way you work over the last 10 years?

My Job has changed a lot since I started but the fundamentals remain the same - produce quality shellfish. Over the last 10 years I have fine-tuned our way of working and made changes which have resulted in a better quality product which is constantly improving.

We have recently invested in new technology and we are learning on the job all the time. Better nursery care, expertise in positioning and years of knowledge and experience is helping us produce an excellent quality product.

What makes your products unique?

The thing that makes Scotland unique when it comes to producing shellfish is the nutrient rich and the pure waters, a unique coastline suitable for shellfish production. We can’t control the elements and we are in a remote location but I love working outside in nature. 

What are your favourite elements about shellfish farming?

Being a shellfish farmer has the benefit of being able to take home some fantastic produce for dinner! My favourite shellfish dish is oysters in a tempura batter which I would highly recommend.

I grew up on this coast and my father was a fisherman so we were always fishing, doing creels or around the shore in small boats so most of my childhood memories are centred on the coast. It is a privilege to be working in this same environment now and managing to provide for my own children.

What is the best thing about being part of Scottish Shellfish?

Mull Oysters Ltd has benefited immensely from being part of Scottish Shellfish, an organisation which strives for quality and is farm focussed. It is run by shellfish growers for shell fish growers and they have the unique understanding of our needs. Being part of a co-operative is very important to me as it is a principle I believe strongly in.

winter is coming

Summer is over

I am writing on a brisk Shetland autumn day, which anyone might mistake for a full-blown winter’s gale in more southerly climates.  As often as not up here, the weather snaps from summer to winter in one fell swoop and the summer seems very much behind us now.   Despite southern parts of Britain getting a final flourish of heat, we seem to be lined up for several weeks of gales and cool temperatures of 7 degrees or below.  So, I’m calling it - summer is over.

Unique shellfish

It is however the cold temperatures and cold sea water that make our shellfish unique.  So, getting into this part of the season has its benefits and it is one of the best times of the year for the mussels themselves. They have just had a long summer of warm days, plenty of plankton to eat to build up their meats and followed by the current cooler conditions for harvesting mean they should be getting to market in top condition right now.

winter is coming

Visitors

Despite the cooler conditions, we have had a few visitors to the sites lately with the first being the board of Food Standards Scotland making the trip north to find out more about how we farm.  We discussed their sampling programme and how that works to classify our areas and ensure plankton blooms over the summer cannot cause the shellfish to become unsafe to eat.  We also talked about the extra work and testing we do on every harvest, to make sure all the shellfish we harvest are safely farmed and sustainable.  It was a really useful day and was great they made the effort to come up and see us.

winter is coming

Fresh mussels for the Chefs

The following week we had a delegation from Seafood Scotland, who had invited a group of Chefs up from the UK Mainland to also get the chance to see what we do.  We were able to show them the farms and also the factory where Scottish Shellfish boxes up the mussels for the wholesale markets.  They were keen to get their hands on some shells and take them up to the local award-winning restaurant Frankie’s and try their own recipes with product still dripping with seawater.  They too seemed to enjoy the visit and hopefully went back fully inspired to use our shellfish in their daily menus.

winter is coming

Autumn harvesting

Moving through autumn we expect to mainly be harvesting, getting the sites battened down for the rest of the winter and planning for next year’s spring spat input.  You can follow Shetland Mussels on twitter for more regular updates of farm happenings @ShetlandMussels