Q&A: Virginia Sumsion, Loch Fyne Oysters
Founded more than 30 years ago, Scottish-based Loch Fyne Oysters today supplies businesses around the world with a range of seafood products, including its eponymous oysters grown naturally at the head of Loch Fyne in Argyllshire, Scotland. In 1998, Loch Fyne Restaurants opened as an accompaniment to Loch Fyne Oysters but was acquired by British pub operator and brewer Greene King in 2007. In 2003, Loch Fyne Oysters was bought by its employees and remains employee-owned today. From July 2008 to June 2009, the company sold 1.9 million oysters.
SeafoodSource caught up with Virginia Sumsion, marketing manager at Loch Fyne Oysters, to talk about oyster and mussel farming and seafood sustainability, which the company has deemed a priority.
Partos: Is Loch Fyne Oysters committed to sustainability?
Sumsion: Our approach to business is that our impact on the environment should be at the least negative, and at the best positive.
Oysters are the ultimate sustainable product, and this is a low impact business. We operate using the tidal system whereby the oyster racks are on the shore, and when the tide is out and the oysters are exposed we can collect them. We're the watchdogs for the loch and constantly monitor the quality of the water. In addition, we test for viruses in the laboratory.
[Our mussels] are grown on ropes in the loch and are harvested using a natural process. We've provided a safe harbor for the mussels that respects the environment.
We also work closely with small salmon producers, about five or six, including Loch Duart. [In 2002, Loch Duart became the world's first salmon farm accredited with Freedom Food's new salmon scheme, which establishes standards for fish welfare and husbandry. Freedom Food is an independent farm-assurance and food-labeling program set up by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).]
Are you expanding your operations and seafood product range?
Last year, we acquired Simsons Fisheries in England to ensure that all fish for our restaurants were well sourced. We have been getting to know the suppliers and ensuring that they meet with our strict whitefish buying policy. We also work with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and use information from this organization [such as] the Good Fish Guide. This guide, published by the MCS, was 50 percent funded by the Loch Fyne Trust.
What is the Loch Fyne Trust?
The Loch Fyne Oysters Trust is funded by a percentage of mail order sales and assists projects or charities working within the local community or with links to it. Projects that have been assisted in recent years include local fundraising events for schools, arts organizations and communities.
Is maintaining sustainability a challenge for any business?
Yes, it definitely is. It is a commitment to stick to your principles despite the commercial pressures.