Image for Farms of the future: mussel farming given a new lifeline

Farms of the future: mussel farming given a new lifeline

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

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.

Mussels naturally settle on longlines, 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.

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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.

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