Shell­fish Go­ing Dutch

Fo­cus on bi­valves as a solution to cli­mate change

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ONCE more to Neeltje Jans, the man­made is­land in the mouth of the Ooster­schelde, built as a first stage in the con­struc­tion of the storm surge bar­rier. This has been the site of a bi­en­nial shell­fish con­fer­ence for some years. There was some con­fu­sion this year in that, since it has been held on al­ter­nate years in the past, at­ten­dees were as­sum­ing they met there in 2018 whereas, in fact, it was last held three years ago.

Jaap Hol­stein had been per­suaded out of re­tire­ment (from run­ning the Dutch mus­sel pro­duc­ers’ or­gan­i­sa­tion) to help newly re­tired Pro­fes­sor Aad Smaal to or­gan­ise this and they had made an ex­cel­lent job of it, with a packed pro­gramme.

The theme was ‘op­por­tu­ni­ties and in­no­va­tions’ and the con­fer­ence was roughly di­vided over the two days un­der th­ese head­ings, with the first day con­cen­trat­ing on op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Jaap wel­comed ev­ery­one to the largest the­atre in the vis­i­tor cen­tre, big enough to ac­com­mo­date some 250 del­e­gates, 50 of whom came from out­side the Nether­lands, rep­re­sent­ing nine dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

While the theme was op­por­tu­ni­ties and in­no­va­tions, the ar­gu­ments in favour of bi­valve aqua­cul­ture as a solution to our cur­rent cli­mate cri­sis kept break­ing through.

And once again, as at the ASSG shell­fish con­fer­ence, I found my­self won­der­ing how we were go­ing to get this in­for­ma­tion more widely known and un­der­stood.

Dr Nanou Beek­man, a se­nior civil ser­vant and the di­rec­tor of fish­eries at the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Na­ture and Food, opened the pro­ceed­ings and then stayed all morn­ing as chair for the first ses­sion.

The first speaker, Wouter van Zand­brink, posed the ques­tion as to what the po­si­tion or role of shell­fish pro­duc­tion in a cir­cu­lar econ­omy is. He was talk­ing in terms of car­bon foot­prints and said that 35 per cent of the global foot­print is due to food pro­duc­tion.

He cited two ma­jor re­ports, one from the UN1 and one from the EU2, which pro­vided some ev­i­dence that the ben­e­fits of shell­fish are be­ing more widely ap­pre­ci­ated and un­der­stood.

The ar­gu­ments for feed­ing lower in the food chain are inar­guable and, of course, shell­fish come out well in this, but he then asked why, if farm­ers get funded for farm­ing in ways to help the en­vi­ron­ment, shell­fish farm­ers can­not be el­i­gi­ble for such help.

There are, how­ever, clearly prob­lems within the main grow­ing areas in the Nether­lands, as he re­ported, with mus­sels di­min­ish­ing in size as rivers run­ning into the Ooster­schelde are be­ing blocked off, and both to­tal pro­duc­tion and the size of the mus­sels is drop­ping.

Holm­yard drew the short straw when she was asked to ex­plain Brexit to a Euro­pean au­di­ence”

Also, I learnt from the au­di­ence that 40 per cent of the mus­sels in the Ooster­schelde have died and it seems to be due to the ‘can­cer’ af­fect­ing mus­sels in France.

The next speaker, Marnix Poel­man from Wa­genin­gen Ma­rine Re­search (WMR), also ar­gued for eat­ing at the low­est trophic lev­els. He quoted a re­cent pa­per (Hil­born et al 2018) where ar­gu­ments in favour of bi­valves are very clearly ex­pressed.

He also pointed out that in life cy­cle as­sess­ments (LCA), in terms of green­house gases, shell­fish farm­ing was placed very favourably.

He went fur­ther, how­ever, and re­ported that there were rel­a­tively few stud­ies on en­ergy con­sump­tion as part of such stud­ies. One graph, of a LCA4 of bou­chot mus­sel cul­ture, showed that fuel use made quite a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to out­go­ings that was hardly com­pen­sated for by the ben­e­fits of the car­bon sink ef­fect. So there is cer­tainly no room for com­pla­cency.

This topic was taken up by Hen­rice Jansen, also of WMR, un­der the head­ing ‘cli­mate proof cul­ture – shell­fish as car­bon and ni­tro­gen sink’.

Hen­rice ex­plained care­fully how there were dif­fer­ent meth­ods to cal­cu­late how much car­bon is se­questered in shell­fish cul­ture, but what­ever method was used, the punch­line was that while the Dutch mus­sel pro­duc­tion could cap­ture more than 4,000 tonnes of car­bon per year (us­ing the most favourable cal­cu­la­tion method) it would need 1.1ha of mus­sel bot­tom cul­ture to mit­i­gate the ef­fects of one car’s use (as­sum­ing 13,000km/year and 930 litres of petrol)!

Some of the talks were not as pos­i­tive as the terms ‘op­por­tu­ni­ties and in­no­va­tion’ might im­ply. Camille Sau­rel of the Dan­ish Re­search Cen­tre (DRC) cer­tainly had an in­no­va­tion to talk about, but in re­sponse to what was a se­vere prob­lem – that of how to deal with ex­tra­or­di­nary pop­u­la­tions of starfish in the Lim­fjord.

The pho­to­graphs show­ing the de­gree of in­fes­ta­tion were hardly be­liev­able but the DRC team of re­searchers had found ways to har­vest th­ese preda­tors from the mus­sel beds they were de­stroy­ing, and had set up meal man­u­fac­ture from them.

They are now pro­duc­ing starfish meal with up to 70 per cent pro­tein, and with bet­ter amino acid con­tent than plant al­ter­na­tives, which can pro­vide a cheaper source of high qual­ity ma­rine pro­tein for the pig and poul­try in­dus­try.

One prob­lem that re­mains is how to re­move starfish from newly re­layed mus­sel beds, but they are hope­ful that the use of ‘mops’ rather than the beam trawl used else­where will be suc­cess­ful.

Talks from Ire­land (Ni­cholas Chopin) and France (Jean Prou) showed the scale of shell­fish cul­ture in th­ese two coun­tries and elu­ci­dated some of the prob­lems they are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

Mean­while, two talks on the off­shore cul­ture of mus­sels could have been headed ‘So you think you have prob­lems…’

The first of th­ese was from An­to­nio Cunha (of

Testa and Cunha, Por­tu­gal). While his farm off the south coast of Por­tu­gal ap­peared to be some­what less ‘off­shore’ than John Holm­yard’s (Off­shore Shell­fish, UK) farm in Devon, this clearly did not mean it had less ex­po­sure to se­vere storms. The pho­tos of the re­sul­tant dis­ar­ray were cer­tainly a de­ter­rent to any­one think­ing that go­ing off­shore might be easy.

There were three talks tack­ling shell­fish trade, but Nicki Holm­yard drew the short straw when she was asked to ex­plain Brexit to a Euro­pean au­di­ence.

The speaker ahead of her (Pierre Boels) had nicely set the scene be­cause when talk­ing of his work to es­tab­lish a seafood hub in Prague, and how it sup­plied all Europe, he left out the UK as sim­ply ‘too dif­fi­cult’!

Nicki nonethe­less made a very good pre­sen­ta­tion, set­ting the scene, re­liv­ing the con­flict­ing feel­ings en­gen­dered by the whole process in the UK, and pre­sent­ing a rather daunt­ing pic­ture of what may well be nec­es­sary for the shell­fish trade once Brexit is fully re­alised.

As part of the con­fer­ence, an award is made for sus­tain­abil­ity, an­nounced af­ter the talks on the first day, while wine and most ex­cel­lent na­tive oys­ters (sup­plied by Os­terij) are served.

One slight snag is that by this time the si­mul­ta­ne­ous trans­la­tors are off duty, so any non-Dutch speaker has no idea what is go­ing on while the short­listed can­di­dates are in­ter­viewed!

The award was won this year by Machien­fab­riek Bakker, Yerseke, and col­lected by Wim Bakker, for the devel­op­ment of a more sus­tain­able sock for sus­pended mus­sel cul­ture.

The run­ners-up were Van Es Ver­pakking, Yerseke (Willem Bakker), World of Oys­ters, Yerseke (Jean Dhooge), and Franken Ma­chines en VAM Watertech, Bors­sele (Hans Blaak).

1Costello, C., L. Cao, S.Gel­cich et al 2019 The fu­ture of food from the sea. Wash­ing­ton, DC: World re­sources In­sti­tute. Avail­able online at www.ocean­­ture-food-sea

2Food from the Oceans- How can more food and biomass be ob­tained from the oceans in a way that does not de­prive fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of their ben­e­fits? Euro­pean Com­mis­sion

Direc­torate Gen­eral for Re­search and In­no­va­tion

3Hil­born, R., Banobi, J., Hall, S. J., Pucy­lowski, T., & Walsworth, T. E. (2018, Au­gust 1). The en­vi­ron­men­tal cost of an­i­mal source foods. Fron­tiers in Ecology and the En­vi­ron­ment. Wi­ley Black­well.

4Au­bin, J., Fon­taine, C., Cal­lier, M., & Roque d’or­b­cas­tel, E. (2018). Blue mus­sel (Mytilus edulis) bou­chot cul­ture in Mont-St Michel Bay: po­ten­tial mit­i­ga­tion ef­fects on cli­mate change and eu­troph­i­ca­tion. The in­ter­na­tional jour­nal of life cy­cle as­sess­ment, 23, 1030-1041. doi: 10.1007/s11367-017-1403-y


Op­po­site - left: All speak­ers were pre­sented with a bot­tle of cel­e­bra­tory Au­gustin beer and a hand dec­o­rated oys­ter shell. Here, Nicki Holm­yard (left) poses with the artist whose idea and prod­uct they are, Dieuwke Par­levliet. Op­po­site - above: Speak­ers on the sec­ond day, Jean Prou and Camille Sau­rel re­ceive their speak­ers’ gifts. Top: Af­ter the pre­sen­ta­tion of the sus­tain­abil­ity awards, from left Jasper van Houcke, Aad Smaal, Jean Dhooge, Jaap Hol­stein, Willem Bakker, Hans Blaak, the win­ner, Wim Bakker, and Mayor of Yerseke, José van Eg­mond. Above: The lady from Oes­terij with the na­tive oys­ters from Lake Grev­el­ing

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