Trials to get mussels to spawn in a hatchery environment are now underway at the NAFC Marine Centre at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).
The trials are part of a two-year research and innovation project to test the commercial viability of a Scottish mussel hatchery; a multi-partner collaboration consisting of the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG), UHI, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, with co-funding from the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) and, most recently, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.
This latest milestone comes after several months of custom-design, engineering and installation of the core infrastructure which includes algal culture and water treatment facilities along with tank room resources for spawning, larvae incubation and grow-out.
Says Chairman of SSMG and mussel farmer Michael Tait: “It’s both empowering and daunting to reach this stage of our journey. We will be working with methodologies that have proven successful in Tasmania and New Zealand as our starting point, and exploring how and where they can be adapted to the specific mussel species and marine conditions found here in Scotland in order to produce spat on a commercial scale.”
Aquaculture Manager at NAFC UHI Gregg Arthur, who will be providing an overview of the project at the forthcoming ASSG annual conference, adds: “We are hugely grateful for the level of interest and support we have received both from our industry partners and our funders, and are very much looking forward to seeing our first batch of hatchery-reared spat heading out to farm sea sites.”
If the pilot project is successful, the insights gleaned will help build the business case for a national hatchery or series of regional hatcheries – a development that would help producers achieve the Scottish Government’s targets of 13,000 tonnes annually by 2020, and the shellfish sector’s own ambitions of 21,000 tonnes annually by 2030.
Explains SAIC CEO Heather Jones: “Currently, Scotland produces over 7,000 tonnes of mussels each year, with Shetland accounting for almost 80% of production. A commercial-scale hatchery or hatcheries would lead to higher and more reliable yields; a more balanced distribution of sites; and with it, more jobs within the sector. Not only that, but there is also the potential for the same hatchery technologies and techniques to be applied to other shellfish species such as oysters, delivering further benefit to the sector.”
Amongst those involved in the design and construction of the pilot hatchery were local firms Ocean Kinetics and Shetland Composites. Says Ocean Kinetics Managing Director John Henderson: “We were delighted to contribute to a project that stands to benefit not just Shetland and the surrounding area but also Scotland as a whole, and worked closely with the project team to design and manufacture key components of the hatchery equipment to their exact specification.”