This week there was a small item on page 3 of our local newspaper announcing that the four major players in New Zealand’s mussel industry have joined forces to create a new company, Spatco. The four companies involved are Wakatu Incorporation, Sealord (both Nelson-based), Sanford and Pacifica Seafoods. Spatco aims to take baby mussels grown in the laboratory (“spat”) and grow them up to the size where they can survive on their own in the marine environment. The objectives are two-fold: to ensure a consistent, reliable supply of mussel juveniles and to take advantage of the ambitious selective breeding programme which has been going on at Cawthron Institute for the past five or six years.
In a former life, I had a lot to do with Greenshell mussels. There’s a large export industry based upon farming these shellfish, which are found only in New Zealand. Not only do they taste good, but they are also good for your health. (I managed to get off anti-inflammatory drugs for about seven years by including Greenshell mussels in my regular diet, but that’s another story.)
But this multimillion dollar industry recruits its juvenile mussels in a very strange way.
Last week, the Cawthron Institute announced it would be spending $2.2 million on upgrading their research facility, the Glenhaven Aquaculture Centre. Here’s a piece about its very beginnings, a wonderful success story. Back in the early 90s, Cawthron Institute was approached by a young marine biologist with a proposal. Sam Buchanan wanted us to give him a job so he could complete a research project for his Ph.D. He claimed that he was on the track to solving a problem that had stumped New Zealand scientists for the previous 20 years or more: how to grow Greenshell™ mussels in a hatchery. (If you haven’t heard of these before, see here for more on this iconic New Zealand shellfish.) There were several problems with this idea. Cawthron didn’t have a hatchery, or anything remotely like the facilities that he would need. There was no money for such a project. Finally, we…