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NZ gives aquaculture boost by domesticating mussels

By RJ Whitehead , 19-Nov-2012

The New Zealand government has announced that it will support a seven-year, NZ$26m initiative to boost aquaculture by selectively breeding New Zealand greenshell mussels for the first time.

The joint-venture venture between the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Shellfish Production and Technology New Zealand, will be led by sustainable seafood processing company Sanford, the commercial partner in the venture, and see NZ$13m each of public and industry funding. 

Industry’s biggest development

The partners have heralded the move as “the most significant research and development investment made in New Zealand’s greenshell mussel industry since the first marine farms were established in the 1970s”.

The farmed mussel industry is currently reliant on wild-caught spat, which varies in quality attributes. This research will identify genetics that will meet market requirements and enable selective breeding, in the same way as has occurred in other primary production industries such as kiwifruit and dairy. 

Greenshell mussels offer a significant export growth opportunity, and Stanford is part of a push to grow greenshell mussel exports to China. In its second year of this strategy, the company is seeing growth at over 30%.

Overseas trade

This is a highly regarded product from New Zealand,” said Eric Barratt, Stanford’s managing director. “In being able to take control of the breeding process, we can create innovative products best suited to the needs and tastes of our international customers,” he said.

Smart, sustainable aquaculture will be critical to [New Zealand’s] export success into the future. For the first time mussel farming will be able to take advantage of selective breeding in the same way that our sheep, dairy and other primary exporters have done for decades to gain export premiums for their products.”

The joint project will involve the development of a shellfish hatchery. Construction will begin in early 2013, with a hatchery building, nursing building and three ponds of approximately 1,500sq-m, each being built onsite. The first significant quantities of commercially bred mussels are planned for 2015.

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