Prospects ' not so bleak' - but industry must remain alert
With no fewer than eight publicised sessions, plus other industry workshops going on at the same time, it was a pleasant surprise to find a reasonably sized and very international audience at the shellfish workshop. Organised by Mark James of MASTS and Stefano Carboni of Stirling University, with additional input from Nick Lake (ASSG), the event was chaired by Nicki Holmyard.
The organisers had put together an interesting programme to provide a cross section of useful information to the shellfish grower but also highlighting areas where research was cried out for. This may have been the more profitable line to aim for since it is probably fair to say that there are more academics and researchers attending EAS meetings than hard-headed farmers.
In the opening talk, Aad Smaal of Wageningen Marine Research talked about the Euroshell project and what it had achieved. The meetings I attended in Arcachon and Rotterdam as part of Euroshell were very useful and have resulted in changes of emphasis in research.
The aim was to develop best practice in getting the science to the producers with the hope of building a closer cooperation. As part of this extension, networks were seen to be important but probably have yet to materialise.
Next was Jennifer Howie of Food Standards Scotland talking about the role of FSS in helping the shellfish industry maintain food safety and emphasising that it is a balance of responsibilities. One of the events she referred to was that of 2013 when an unforeseen rapid build-up of Dinophysis caused real problems for the mussel farmers.
This was then neatly caught up by the next speaker, Keith Davidson of SAMS, who talked about the ‘future direction of HABS management’, where work to predict where toxic algae blooms might end up can be very important both for shellfish and marine fish farmers.
With an unforeseen gap in the programme, one area not scheduled to be addressed, that of genetic selection within the shellfish industry, was included, with Pierre Boudry of Ifremer gallantly stepping up to give an entirely impromptu talk without notes or power point.
We listen when people chat to us, and especially when they are enthusiastic. This was the case. The talk did, however, very much highlight the differences between France and Scotland in that for their oyster industry they have a choice of wild–caught or hatchery-reared gigas oysters.
One problem with this is the hatcheries, having developed the production of triploid oysters and tetraploid oysters as a high tech means of producing oysters that can be sold at a premium because they do not mature sexually, now find these are competing with the oysters from the wild spat being sold as ‘born at sea’!
He talked about the considerable problems of introducing selection into the hatchery process since when working with a species in
which one individual can produce five million eggs the risks of inbreeding are huge. He firmly favoured that it should be commercial hatcheries carrying out the selection work, although stressed that Ifremer would provide support in this.
Tim Bean and Mike Gubbins, both of Cefas Weymouth, gave talks on the state of the oyster herpes virus, for which Scotland still remains free for now but for which we need to remain fully alert to the risks of its introduction.
Melody Clark of the British Antarctic Survey came with a title ‘Shellfish in a changing world – not so bleak?’ With all the doom and gloom of global warming and ocean acidification, she explained the thinking behind the project CACHE (Calcium in a changing environment).
While acknowledging the factual nature of these problems her ‘not so bleak’ approach was to suggest molluscs adapt rather successfully and proceeded to give specific examples of experiments and studies that demonstrate exactly this, not just in molluscs but also in other marine species.
She also gave evidence that longer term experiments can sometimes demonstrate these beneficial adaptions that are overlooked by short term experiments.
So after some reassurance it was time to get the real bad news of the day. Liz Cottier-Cook of SAMS, in a talk billed as ‘Practical biosecurity responses to the threat of invasive species’ told us that the invasive species Didemnum vexillum (carpet sea squirt) had been found in Loch Creran.
What is alarming about this is that despite surveys carried out in 2011 around Largs Marina, where it was first found in Scotland, this was the first real look for the species carried out.
However, the fact that it was an oyster farmer who alerted her to the problem and hence alerted Marine Scotland and SNH, does highlight the importance of aquaculturists as early warning systems.
Cottier-Cook was at pains to stress that it was crucial for all organisations, fish farms, shellfish farms, marinas and boat owners to be aware of this problem and to have a biosecurity plan in place. There is a guidance document available on this at www.snh.gov. uk/docs/A1294630.pdf.