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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.

shellfish farming A proud tradition

Traditional healthy fare

Historically, shellfish was the food of the masses, but today it’s often regarded as a delicacy. And because of the relative rarity of consumption, some regard shellfish with suspicion. But seafood in general and shellfish in particular give us oils and vitamins which can help reduce heart disease, and they’re an important part of a healthy diet.

Genuine fast food

Our reluctance to eat shellfish is partly because we don’t know how to prepare it at home.  Shellfish is a genuine fast food which requires little effort to prepare. And there’s evidence that this message is beginning to hit home.

An upward trend

Although production of shellfish varies every year (due to weather, market prices and poor growth) statistics show that the shellfish industry in Scotland (dominated by mussels, scallops and oysters) is growing. In 2016, for example mussel production increased by six per cent, pacific oysters are up by 31% from 2015, and queen scallop production has increased by a staggering 370% in the same period. The Scottish shellfish industry itself is valued at £11.7m. (Source: Scottish Shellfish Farm Production Survey 2016)

Sustainable Scottish fishing

Today, Scotland leads the way in sustainable fishing practices. Most seafood is farmed rather than hand-picked, although the mussels themselves are cultivated or rope-grown, and no additives or feed are used. Ropes are set up in a carefully selected clean water area and the mussels attach themselves to the ropes, to be harvested a few years later. Celebrity chef Jean Claude Novelli describes Scottish mussels farmed in Shetland as "the best in the world".

A family business

Traditionally, shellfish farming is a family business. Often established in remote coastal areas where employment opportunities were limited. Shellfish can’t be farmed intensively, cultivation requires specialist skills, sometimes honed over generations. Today there are nearly 200 shellfish farming businesses in Scotland, many of which are still family run.

Working together

Despite the focus on family-run businesses, our shellfish farmers often work together to market and sell their products at agreed prices.  These co-operatives keep marketing prices down, and the market buoyant and healthy.

The personal touch

Although we work together with a number of different farmers, we still believe in the personal touch.  All of our produce can be traced back to its original source. Our shellfish farmers are based on the west coast of Scotland and on Shetland, and their oysters, mussels and scallops have their own unique qualities depending on the skills and methods used and the farm itself. Our individual farmers’ stories contribute overall to the history of Scottish shellfish and are an important part of our own story. Click here to read our farmers' stories.

Next time you’re considering what to cook for a simple weekday supper, why not eschew the traditional pizza or spaghetti bolognaise and try mussels or scallops instead? We have lots of great recipes on our website which are quick and easy to prepare, and much healthier for you.