The Big Picture – Fish Farmer Magazine


Online meetings may have kept the shellfish industry connected over the past two years, but it was a relief for everyone to be able to attend the 52nd Annual Shellfish Conference in person. Association of Great Britain (SAGB) this year.

The conference covered both farmed and harvested shellfish. This report does not address the latter point, although Lindy Wood of the Lobster Pot in Anglesey deserves mention for her meandering Members Slot through her ‘life in lobsters’ and her family’s involvement for 70 years and three generations. It was a delight to listen to.

SAGB Chairman Chris Leftwich opened the proceedings by calling on the government to help the industry overcome Brexit and regulatory issues that are hampering development. He welcomed the creation of an all-party parliamentary group on shellfish farming – for which SAGB provides the secretariat – and hoped that this forum would help raise the profile of the sector in parliament and lead to improvements.

Delegates enjoyed keynote speeches from government ministers from the UK’s three devolved parliaments, who recognized the importance of fostering sustainable industry.

MP Victoria Prentis, Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), said she had worked hard during the pandemic to keep shellfish farmers going, through various pots of financing. New schemes, including the UK Seafood Fund, are now open to help the industry develop its potential. Domestic sales and exports are encouraged by agencies such as Seafish and the Department of International Trade.

The first of its priorities is to regain free access to the EU market for live bivalve molluscs, which are currently not eligible for export from Category B waters unless they are purified.

“The government continues to engage with the EU through the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) to overcome this, but there is little movement from the EU side at present” , she admitted, to the disappointment of mussel farmers.

On the burning issue of the persistent poor quality of coastal waters, Ms Prentis said the number of areas marked for improvement and protection was gradually increasing. However, delegates felt that the goals, which extend to 2050 and beyond, lacked ambition and urgency.

Work is also underway with CEFAS and Natural England to resolve a backlog of habitat risk assessments for Pacific oyster farms in protected areas. Despite the many positive attributes of shellfish farming, the current presumption against farm expansion has created a crisis of confidence in the industry.

His words were echoed by Mairi Gougeon MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Islands, and Lesley Griffiths MS, Minister for Rural Affairs, North Wales and Trefnydd. Both ministers have important shellfish industries in their countries and are committed to helping them thrive.

Ms Gougeon explained that shellfish farming in Scotland employs over 300 people and that Shetland produces 80% of the country’s mussels. Following a review of the aquaculture sector by Professor Russel Griggs, the government has recommended that shellfish leases be extended to 25 years, giving both industry and investors greater confidence in the sector.

Ms Griffiths noted that research is ongoing into how to decarbonise the aquaculture and fishing industries in Wales and how to improve long-term management.

Katrine Sasaki, Market Outreach and Agriculture Manager at the British Embassy in Tokyo, explained how her food and drink team helps exporters enter the Japanese market and find local partners . Japan is Asia’s largest seafood market, with per capita consumption twice that of other countries.

“It must be fresh, healthy, affordable, easy to prepare and sustainable. There is currently no access for raw oysters from the UK, but we are working with Defra and the Japanese authorities to resolve this,” she said.

Wider market opportunities for UK shellfish were covered by Matt Whittles, seafood trade manager for the Defra Fisheries Trade Team. He explained that there are many “relatively small, but cumulatively significant” export opportunities, but admitted that it is difficult to find markets for bulk exports of live mussels.

Aoife Martin, chief operating officer at Seafish, looked at the economic impacts of Covid on the industry, which has seen retail sales and home delivery increase, food service virtually shut down and many businesses fail. Seafood exports have also been hit hard.

A recent review of shellfish farming opportunities in the blue economy was covered by Alex Adrian of Crown Estate Scotland, who said a growing number of people are interested in funding this space.

The study looked at the optimal size of shellfish and seaweed farms, how co-culture could make the sector more viable, alternative markets for raw materials and the ecosystem services that They provide.

Lewis LeVay of Bangor University presented the results of a project that examined the feasibility of developing an insurance scheme for shellfish and human health.

“There is an urgent need to develop an insurance system with a more adaptive approach than the one currently used, which generates many borderline or abnormal results. Our study, centered on an oyster and mussel farm in Cornwall’s Camel Estuary, showed that a real-time predictive system of E. coli in shellfish is conceptually feasible and that relatively simple models based on available environmental data could be used to predict consumer risk. It is possible to offer growers a more suitable approach by using a pour-on plate method to analyze samples, instead of the current system which uses mean probable number (MPN),” he said.

The method generally used in the UK to sample E. coli from mussels involves serial dilution of mussel flesh extract, followed by statistical analysis of E. coli counts. in dilutions – hence the “probable average number”.

The “pour plate method” is the method of choice in the Netherlands and other EU countries for counting the number of colony-forming bacteria present in a liquid sample. It uses a sample of mussel extract mixed with molten agar as the medium.

Also at the conference, speaking about his research into the nutritional benefits of bivalve shellfish, Dr. David Willer from the University of Cambridge discussed how poor diets harm our health, our economy and our environment.

“Bivalves offer a superior, micronutrient-rich source of dietary protein, which is necessary for healthier diets, in addition to being a highly sustainable food source,” he said.

He speculated that innovation, investment and involvement in the supply chain could potentially transform the current small bivalve industry into a multi-billion pound industry producing 6.5 million tonnes of mussel meat per year, using all available coastal aquatic space.

A major effort to overcome regulatory hurdles, set up hatcheries, develop more innovative culture methods, and install new depuration centers and automated shell removal plants would be needed, along with improved freezing and storage and the development of new protein extraction techniques.

“We look at the big picture, what could be,” he said, leaving his audience to ponder.

Chef and oyster lover Bobby Groves, talked about his writing journey Oyster Islandsreleased in 2019.

“It’s as much about how the oysters are farmed in multiple ways, as it is about my enjoyment of discovering how the merroir is different at each farm. It also includes stories from farmers’ lives, explains why oysters are important and opens up a whole new world to the reader,” he said.

I can highly recommend it!

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