Ostrea edulis was extremely rare in the wild in Strangford Lough from the early 1900s until renewed spatfall was observed at a number of sites in the 1990s. A monitoring programme was undertaken to investigate the presence and distribution of planktonic oyster larvae at nine sites around the lough between June and September in 1997 and 1998 as a precursor to studies of spatfall patterns. Larval densities at sites in the northern basin of the lough were significantly higher than those in the southern basin where larvae were lacking or in low numbers. Densities and sizes of oyster larvae showed significant temporal variation suggesting pulsed larval release. Larval densities also showed significant spatial variation with higher densities at sites closer to commercial stocks pointing to these as the main source of oyster larvae. This hypothesis was supported during a larval flux study over a complete tidal cycle which indicated a 90% net tidal movement of O. edulis larvae from the entrance of the bay where commercial stocks were held to the main body of the lough. Thus the maintenance of dense commercial stocks of flat oysters may provide the key to the redevelopment of native oyster beds in Strangford Lough and elsewhere by providing an initial broodstock nucleus from which larvae can be exported.
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