Summer 2016 saw me undertake my second internship with the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), having completed a ScotGrad Life Sciences internship with SAIC the year before.
That first internship in 2015 was a real turning point for me, helping me realise that I would be better suited to a career within industry as opposed to academia. I embarked on my fourth and final year of a BSc Hons in Marine Science at the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS) feeling focused and highly motivated.
I had learnt an incredible amount about the Scottish aquaculture industry during my first internship and was involved in a variety of tasks and activities, ranging from in-house literature reviews to getting out and about to visit industry and academia. As networking goes, it was invaluable – and has already proved beneficial to me in my, albeit short, career within the aquaculture industry.
This summer, I had a completely different yet equally insightful experience. Having expressed an interest to be more involved in the industry side of aquaculture, I was offered the chance to be based at the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG). There, I worked on an industry-led project, originally developed for the Sustainable Aquaculture MSc programme at the University of Stirling, to help encourage the application of problem-solving science to industry issues.
The aim of my project was to investigate new ways of preparing and packaging live mussels for transportation to customers – amongst them, many of the UK’s major supermarket chains.
Much of my first month was spent familiarising myself with the business and how it worked: from learning about the subtle variations between mussels sourced from different locations, through to the distribution network used.
I also made a site visit to a mussel farm on Scotland’s west coast and, once back at SSMG, learned how to complete intake assessments. This is something that has to be done for each and every delivery of mussels in order to establish key information about the batch: for example, the number of broken shells, the amount of extraneous matter and the quantity with barnacles and tubeworms on the outside of the mussel shells.
Once familiar with the processing of live mussels, I began comparing packaging styles and their impact on the shelf life of mussels. Here, the close supervision of Dr Stefano Carboni from the University of Stirling proved invaluable. Through his expertise and the facilities available to him at the Institute of Aquaculture, I was able to delve further into my research and achieve more rigorously-tested results.
Through my research I found that a small change to the preferred method of packaging would significantly improve the shelf life of mussels – a key finding that led to further trials into the benefits of such a change for customers.
Related to this, I was also involved in making assessments on the shelf life for retained samples of live mussels sent out to customers: collecting data, recognising trends in mussel quality and identifying potential reasons for these.
The combined result of this work was a marked improvement in the quality of the mussels at the end of their shelf life and a noticeable drop in the number of complaints about the products; something that can only strengthen customers’ already positive perceptions of Scottish mussels and SSMG.
Looking back, my second summer internship with SAIC has given me a great insight into the commercial side of the Scottish aquaculture industry. I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute, particularly the hands-on aspect and the fact that no two weeks are the same. The daily taste panel isn’t too bad either!