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Danny Cowing, left, and Michael Tait, who have been involved in the pilot spat hatchery project. Photo: Fish Farm Expert
Danny Cowing, left, and Michael Tait, who have been involved in the pilot spat hatchery project. Photo: Fish Farm Expert

The first mussel spat reared at the Scottish Shellfish Hatchery Stepping Stone project in Shetland will be transferred to on-growing sites at sea next week.

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The positive milestone was announced by Daniel Cowing, aquaculture scientist and technician at the NAFC Marine Centre, and Michael Tait, chairman of the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group, at the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers’ (ASSG) annual conference in Oban.

There, industry members were given an update on the £1.7m 30-month collaboration which also involves Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

Cowing said: “We’re not yet achieving the quantities we would like but we are now seeing larvae develop through to spat stage and settle on to ropes, which is a major advance in itself. The next step will be taking the ropes offshore, where the spat will be closely monitored over a growing period of two years.” 

Robin Shields: Update on additional projects. Below: A hatchery-reared mussel spat taken off a settlement rope moves across a microscope slide
Robin Shields: Update on additional projects. Below: A hatchery-reared mussel spat taken off a settlement rope moves across a microscope slide

Tait, co-owner and operations director of Shetland Mussels Ltd, added: “It’s a positive position in which to end what has been a challenging but ultimately insightful first year. We’ve learned lots about feed requirements and spawning. Now the key focus is on survivability and bacteriology. Get that right and the implications for the industry are very exciting indeed.”

Also speaking at the ASSG conference was Robin Shields, aquaculture innovation manager at SAIC, who provided an update on two additional collaborative projects: one to research the technologies and processes that will help optimise larvae and spat; the other to develop the genetic tools for selective breeding.

He said: “Both projects are specifically designed to provide scientific support to the Stepping Stone pilot, so we’re very much looking forward to seeing representatives from the different project teams come together in Shetland next Tuesday, 31 October to review the advances made during the 2017 season and help plan for 2018.”

The mussel industry is now estimated to be worth over £10 million a year in Scotland alone. A commercial-scale hatchery would see this value increase further, resulting in higher and more reliable yields, new jobs and greater export potential.

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