Shelling out on ambition

Christopher Sutherland, of Lindisfarne Oysters, with his oyster grader and linear plant capable of processing 9,000 shellfish an hour.
Christopher Sutherland, of Lindisfarne Oysters, with his oyster grader and linear plant capable of processing 9,000 shellfish an hour.

THE North East’s only oyster firm has shored up new wholesale orders after investing in equipment allowing it to massively ramp up production.

Lindisfarne Oysters are supplying top London restaurant supplier Wright Brothers, which could lead to extra jobs on the oyster farm and fulfil the family-run business’s ambitions to export oysters to France.

The business, based off the coast of Holy Island at Ross Farm in the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, received more than £25,000 in grant funding from England’s Marine Management Organisation and the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) to pay for the new linear grader and washer.

The £100,000 plant, comprising of machinery made by French company Forge Marine Hardouin, means a dramatic increase in the number of Lindisfarne Oysters that can be processed.

The machine, installed by Berwick-upon-Tweed builder George Hepburn, is capable of washing and sorting up to 9,000 oysters an hour, which has paved the way for the company to clinch larger, wholesale contracts such as supplying Wright Brothers’ requirements of between 4,000 to 5,000 oyster-a-week order.

The farm has now set itself the initial target of supplying 250,000 oysters a year and ultimately aims to process one million shellfish per annum by 2015.

Christopher Sutherland, who runs Lindisfarne Oysters with his wife Helen and their three children, said: “The equipment sorts and grades the same quantity of oysters that we used to do in a day using a pair of scales, in two hours.

“It means we can supply lots of oysters which we couldn’t do before.

“When I first took over the farm from my father in 2003 the numbers of oysters we produced was very low, but we’ve continued to build our knowledge and skills and hope to eventually produce up to 250,000 a year by 2013.

“This is the second grant we’ve received through European funding schemes, the first was in 2007 for a specialist oyster boat, which made the process of farming the oysters significantly easier.

“The latest grant will help us significantly with our expansion plans as it will help us to put the necessary infrastructure in place.”

Lindisfarne Oyster employs eight people and Christopher hopes the much faster processing times will lead to more jobs – and help him achieve one of his ambitions.

“I’ve always wanted to export oysters to France – it’s just like coals to Newcastle,” he said.

“Now we can process them so much faster, that has become a realistic proposition.”

The business is a member of regional food group, Taste North East, which works to find new markets and opportunities for local food and drink businesses.

Taste North East business development manager, Jane Hogan, said: “Lindisfarne Oysters is a great example of a real niche, local food business which is attracting nationwide attention because of its quality products.

“Now that the Sutherland family have the capability of producing so many more oysters, it really opens up the opportunities available to them.

“We are working to identify new routes to markets with other wholesalers – and we’re confident that French oyster lovers will soon be able to get a taste of Northumberland.”