19 July 2018
Pioneering the UK offshore mussel industry
In recent years there has been significant interest in the development of offshore shellfish facilities, whereby mussels are cultivated on rope lines suspended from floating frames sited out at sea. We caught up with John Holmyard at Offshore Shellfish Ltd, who is pioneering developments in Lyme Bay.
In recent years there has been significant interest in the development of offshore shellfish facilities, whereby mussels are cultivated on rope lines suspended from floating frames sited out at sea. We caught up with John Holmyard at Offshore Shellfish Ltd, who is pioneering developments in Lyme Bay, including the UK's first large scale offshore rope cultured mussel farm.
Tell us about the history of Offshore Shellfish Ltd?
I’ve been involved in mussel farming for the past 30 years, after my interest was piqued during my time studying marine biology/oceanography at Bangor University.
After my degree, I worked as a researcher at Imperial College in London, but longed to get back to a more rural life, so when I found a small mussel farm lease available in Scotland, I couldn’t resist taking up the challenge.
Tell us about your pioneering developments in the UK offshore mussel industry?
Building the farm from scratch, I’ve worked with suppliers of rope and equipment, inventing, developing and honing techniques that have helped the Scottish industry to grow from one producing a few hundred tonnes per year to one that currently grows 7,000+ tonnes per year. I was also an early member of the dedicated cooperative marketing group set up to develop the shellfish market.
Always ambitious, after 20 years farming in a narrow sealoch, I looked at broader horizons and decided to expand offshore. We then sold our farms and spent the next 5 years travelling the world learning about alternative mussel farming techniques and looking for the ideal place to develop an offshore mussel farm in the UK.
Lyme Bay off the coast of Devon was finally chosen as a good location, but because no-one had ever done it before, the task for Offshore Shellfish Ltd turned out to be challenging in many ways.
What are the major challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Issues with everything from legislation and regulation, to water quality, longline geometry, harvesting techniques and training new crew, had to be tackled and overcome, including the need to undertake a one-year base-line environmental survey before we could put anything in the water.
We imported unique sea-bed screw anchors and bespoke rope from New Zealand, designed a new flotation system which was built by Fusion Marine in Scotland, and designed two specialist harvesting vessels, the second of which has just arrived from New Zealand. We also put a continuous environmental monitoring programme in place, and the farm is currently signed up to undergo BAP and organic certification.
What are your key markets? Are there any emerging markets that provide future opportunities?
Initial market efforts have been directed towards Europe, where consumers appreciate a top quality mussel with a high meat content, and the company regularly sends the harvest off by the lorry load. There are also plans to start developing the UK market and to encourage UK consumers to eat more mussels!
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is seeing a day’s work produce 80,000 meals of delicious mussels, grown in a fully sustainable way.
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