The people behind the UK’s first fully offshore mussel farm want to encourage Brits to eat more shellfish, which they say is currently untapped food resource.
When the UK’s first fully offshore mussel farm reaches full capacity, it will exceed the yield of Scotland’s entire mussel industry. The farm, which is three miles off the south Devon coast, will triple in size over the next two years. When complete, it will cover 15sq km with 900 lines of rope anchored to depths of up to 30m, producing more than 10,000 tonnes annually.
Back in 2018 a commercially viable pilot plan for developing mussel farming in Scotland has taken a step forward. A consortium of Maritek and Ironside Farrar has been selected to carry out the second stage of the Shellfish Critical Mass Project, following a rigorous tendering process.
Jointly set up by Crown Estate Scotland, the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers (ASSG) and Marine Scotland, the project plans to look at how the future development of the sector can be supported.
The Clyde has been selected to host the project as an area that is distinct, and which already has a good network of organizations who have contributed a great deal of local knowledge and research.
Alex Adrian, Aquaculture Operations Manager at Crown Estate Scotland, said: ‘If the first stage of the Critical Mass Project was the theory, this is where we get to see the practical results. Shellfish harvesting has the potential to be a big success story for Scotland with the right support. By working closely with the industry, government and others, Crown Estate Scotland hope we can help pave the way for future development.”
Mussels naturally settle on long lines, feed on plankton and act as a carbon sink. “Mussels are one of the best ways to sequester carbon, which gets locked into their shells forever,” explains Nicki Holmyard, co-founder of Offshore Shellfish. She believes they’re a currently untapped food resource — rich in omega-3 and, she claims, farming offshore results in a higher meat content.
The team at Offshore Shellfish put out special lines to collect juvenile mussels, known as ‘spats‘. The lines are thinned out onto suspended ropes so the mussels grow at the right density and don’t compete for food. They can be harvested within a year.
Despite initial objections by the fishing community, a ‘spillover‘ effect has increased biodiversity and boosted marine life and fish stocks, Holmyard claims. “Now, fishermen actively fish nearby because it’s such a successful nursery ground for fish, crab and shrimp,” she says.
It all begs the question, why hasn’t it been before in the UK? “It’s expensive and being pioneers is never easy. Mussel farming is weather-dependent — on stormy days, we can’t go to sea. Brexit is our biggest worry because most of our market is Europe,” says Holmyard.
She hopes to encourage the UK to eat more shellfish. “We’ve lost that culture, although people will happily go out in France or Spain for big plate of seafood.” Right now, however, they’re an untapped resource.