THE FIRST commercial mussel hatchery in Scotland is to be established in Shetland as part of a £1.9m trial project that could spark “significant growth” in the shellfish industry.
The hatchery should open at Scalloway’s NAFC Marine Centre next spring to test the commercial feasibility of producing spat (baby mussels), which could be available by the summer.
The 30 month project is being launched by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, with backing from the Scottish government, the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG).
Alongside the pilot hatchery, a research and development programme working in parallel with other institutions will explore new technologies to increase the yield of farmed mussels.
Mussel production in Scotland reached its highest ever level in 2014, with Shetland accounting for almost 80 per cent of production.
However those behind the project say there is huge potential for further growth if the availability of spat is increased.
The hatchery would allow spat from mussels farmed around Scotland to be grown in controlled conditions that would offer “greater reliability and planning” to shellfish farmers.
Dr Beth Mouat, head of marine science and technology at NAFC, said: “This is an excellent example of how the expertise and facilities here at NAFC can be used to support local industry and provide community benefits.
“Through close working with our industry partners and the wider academic community we can help to address some of the most pressing issues affecting the seafood sector, which is such a vital part of Shetland’s economy.”
Highlands and Islands Enterprise head of food and drink Elaine Jamieson said the trial project will lead to better job prospects in Shetland and elsewhere in Scotland.
“The shellfish industry clearly has ambition to increase production, and this collaborative research project has the potential to strengthen Scotland’s position in a growing international market,” she said.
“We believe the project will be a catalyst to significantly improving productivity and output.
“The vast majority of our shellfish producers are located in coastal communities in the north and west of Scotland, so in addition to supporting growth in the food and drink sector, this project will benefit communities and create new jobs in some of our more remote areas.”