Trial could lead to Scotland’s first commercial shellfish hatchery18th November 2015

Trial could lead to Scotland’s first commercial shellfish hatcheryPhoto: SSMG

SAIC and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) are supporting a trial to test the commercial viability of a mussel hatchery in Scotland. The 30-month project could lead to higher productivity in the shellfish industry and support rural businesses and jobs.

Other key partners in the project include the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG), the University of the Highlands and Islands, and the Scottish Government.

The context

Shell production is a growing industry in Scotland, supporting over 500 jobs across the supply chain, many in rural areas. Mussel production in Scotland reached its highest-ever level in 2014.

There is capacity and demand to raise production, if the industry can address issues such as the availability of mussel spat (baby mussels).

The project

There are two main elements to the £1.9 million project:

  • establishing a core pilot-scale hatchery at the NAFC Marine Centre UHI in Scalloway, Shetland, and testing the commercial feasibility of spat production
  • a programme of R&D to support the development of new technologies and processes aimed at increasing the yield of farmed mussels in Scotland.

The project is supported by the Scottish Government, as well as SAIC, HIE, the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group and the NAFC Marine Centre at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Also involved in the R&D programme are members of the MASTS (Marine Alliance for Science and Technology) academic community.

In addition to the NAFC Marine Centre UHI, this includes researchers at the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS; also a member of the University of the Highlands and Islands) and Marine Science Scotland, as well as a Scottish research-focused SME, Xelect.

The research will involve five workstreams:

  • genetic markers (aiming to gather a set of genetic baseline data of current mussel stocks around Scotland’s farming areas)
  • live feeds (aiming to assess species suitability and production technologies for microalgae production)
  • bacteriology (aiming to assess impacts and improve microbiological control in mussel larvae rearing systems)
  • metamorphosis and settlement of mussel larvae (looking at techniques to optimise mussel settlement)
  • transfer of settled stock to sea.

“The applied research made possible by this hatchery project will look at aspects the industry considers important to commercial success. As such, the research could make a demonstrable impact on coastal communities and the shellfish industry in Scotland.”

Dr Crichton Lang, Deputy Principal, University of the Highlands and Islands

The outcomes

Scottish mussels are grown from wild spat which are brought in by the tides and settle on mussel ropes. This settlement can vary from year to year, which can cause problems for farmers. Spat is currently traded by farmers to help fill gaps in settlement, but a more reliable way to stock farms is sought.

Hatchery spat would be produced from mussels already farmed on sites in Scotland, but doing so in controlled conditions would could provide Scottish producers with a more reliable supply of spat (and potentially other juvenile shellfish).

The establishment of a pilot-scale hatchery in Scalloway will help to gauge the feasibility of a commercial hatchery. The programme of R&D involved in the project could increase the yield and exportability of farmed blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) in Scotland.

“Having a more reliable source of spat will help shellfish producers in Scotland to meet the industry’s shellfish production targets of 13,000 tonnes by 2020. In addition, the new technologies and processes permitted by the SAIC-supported research could allow our members to generate increased and more reliable yields, and help them target new export markets.”

Michael Tait, Chairman of SSMG

Connect & Collaborate

Get all the latest news and opportunities from SAIC, including news of events, funding announcements and project updates