The Solent with the oyster beds off the Isle of Wight marked in red.
THE once thriving oyster beds off the Isle of Wight have been closed because of diminishing stocks.
The Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) Solent Oyster Working Group said the temporary closure for the 2013/14 season would help protect and encourage the recovery of the shellfish beds.
However, as a compromise for fishermen who rely on the beds over the winter, IFCA said Langstone Harbour and Portsmouth Harbour would open as normal on November 1 for a shorter, four-week season.
It said the decision, supported by Natural England, followed record low catches last season and formed part of a longer-term strategy to revive the beds with oyster restoration projects being explored.
According to annual surveys, the native oyster population has been in decline since 2000 in the western Solent and 2006 in the eastern Solent.
Neil Richardson, deputy chief executive of the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, said: "This oyster stock in The Solent was once the largest self-sustaining native oyster stock in Europe and supported the most significant fishery in The Solent."
In 1978, up to 450 boats were exploiting the fishery, which employed more than 700 men.
Former Cowes-based oyster fisherman Paul Lambert said the decline in the oyster population had been dramatic, with crews at one time collecting between one and two tonnes a day.
He said now they were lucky to collect three or four bags full, forcing him to turn to whelking to earn a living.
Mr Richardson said the causes of the decline in the oyster population were not fully understood, however research at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton revealed the oysters were failing to reproduce successfully.
He said: "The history of the population is, however, one of frequent collapses and re-establishments."