Colruyt Group obtains permits to cultivate Belgian mussels in the North Sea

Colruyt Group recently obtained an operating and environmental permit for project zone C in the North Sea. Zone C is located 5 kilometres off the coast of Nieuwpoort and Koksijde and is better known as the Westdiep zone. In April 2020, Colruyt Group applied for the necessary permits to cultivate Belgian mussels, in an initial phase, and oysters and seaweed later on. With the permits taken care of, the group is now looking for partners for the installation and maintenance of mussel lines, the cultivation and harvesting of Belgian mussels, and their processing and packaging. The group expects a first limited mussel harvest to be ready at the earliest by the autumn of 2022 and hopes for a full Belgian mussel season in 2023.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Phased and well-considered approach.

With the permits taken care of, Colruyt Group has taken a first important hurdle to eventually growing mussels, flat oysters and seaweed in the North Sea. The combined cultivation of these three native species on the high seas would be unique in the world and an absolute first for the Belgian North Sea. “A lot of research and innovation has gone into this, but we are now very close to launching the very first sea farm in the North Sea,” says Stefan Goethaert, quality and production manager at Colruyt Group. “Growing mussels, oysters and seaweed on such a scale in the North Sea has never been done before. We also know that this will not be easy given the rough conditions and the currents in the Belgian North Sea. That’s why we’re doing it step by step.”

Colruyt Group will handle every phase of this project, from the design to the construction and maintenance of the sea farm, in phases. “We are now finalising the design of our installation, right down to the choice of materials. Once the design is final, we can start talking with potential partners. We want to work on this in the first half of 2021, before effectively starting to set up the first mussel lines in the second half of the year.” In a first phase, the group will use a quarter of the surface area of zone C. About 50 mussel lines will be sowed, which are expected to produce about 250 tonnes of mussels. A first limited mussel harvest should be ready by the autumn of 2022. The group is aiming to take part in the first full mussel season and offer Belgian mussels in all its shops for the first time in 2023.

Sustainable and local partnerships

Colruyt Group will call on partners with the necessary expertise for the design, construction and operation of the sea farm, as well as for setting up the further processing chain (cultivation, harvesting, processing and packaging). The group will also enter into targeted partnerships to guarantee safety in and around the sea farm and to monitor the impact on the environment. “Wherever possible, we want to give priority to local, Belgian partners,” adds Stefan Goethaert. “We are convinced that this project will enable us to create a new value chain in Belgium, which will allow us to contribute to local employment and innovation in the Belgian aquaculture and food sector. We find it very important to invest in these innovative projects and are delighted to have the Belgian hydraulic engineer DEME on board as a co-investor." 

Impact on the environment

As environmental considerations are a priority for Colruyt Group, commercial operations will be combined with environmental management in the North Sea. There is a strong belief that cultivating mussels, oysters and seaweed will positively impact both water quality and biodiversity in and around the farm's infrastructure. The impact on the environment will obviously be adequately monitored in the coming years. The group will report on this to an evaluation committee comprised of several administrations. 

The Scientific Service Management Unit of the Mathematical Model of the North Sea (MUMM), which assessed the environmental consequences and advised the minister, will also be represented on this committee. Brigitte Lauwaert, team manager of MUMM: “MUMM has been giving advice about the protection of the Belgian part of the North Sea since 1980. Now, for the first time, a commercial aquaculture project is licenced. This is unique in Belgian maritime history. Based on our scientific expertise, we have worked hard on the conditions this project must fulfil and on a monitoring programme to chart the effects of the sea farm. MUMM and Colruyt Group joined forces to carry out this monitoring programme.”

Continue to focus on research and consultation

In addition to this commercial project, Colruyt Group also invests in research and innovation in relation to aquaculture. For example, the group is part of a research project in Zone C, investigating the combination of aquaculture and passive fishing. “We are convinced that the sea farm will provide a lot of insights and therefore add value to current and future research projects, in which we will continue to participate,’ says Stefan Goethaert.

In addition, the groupis engaged in constructive consultation with all stakeholders, such as local authorities, the ports, the fishing industry and pleasure craft. “We are well aware that some parties have concerns and we continue to enter into dialogue," says Stefan Goethaert. “At the same time, we are convinced that many local players feel positive about the sea farm and would like to support the project. Anyone who is interested, is cordially invited to come and talk to us.”