The first aquaculture products from the project area “North Sea Aquaculture” are a fact AND a success: particularly flavoursome Belgian mussels

Today, the first Belgian mussels from the “North Sea Aquaculture” project area (EDULIS and Value@Sea sub-projects) were tasted and found to be delicious. The various partners in the research project can look back with pride, in the presence of Patricia De Clercq, Permanent Secretary Agriculture & Fisheries and Secretary of State for the North See, Philippe De Backer, on a successful collaboration in cultivating mussels for the first time in an integrated way in the Belgian section of the North Sea.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

First Belgian mussels from the North Sea Aquaculture project: promising future

The mussels were caught on the Belgian coast testing area as part of the North Sea Aquaculture projects. These Belgian mussels have a higher meat content at 36% to 39% than other common mussels and emerged from the Colruyt Group’s taste-and-use tests as being particularly flavoursome. Nancy Nevejan from UGent’s Laboratory for Aquaculture & ARC adds: “In addition, what is noticeable is that these mussels grow particularly quickly. Over 12 months, they reached full size, while the Zeeland soil mussels need 18-20 months to reach maturity”.

Very positive results have been noted from the number of mussels that attach themselves to the cultivation systems. With the knowledge acquired, the future looks promising for the partners in the North Sea in starting up an integrated “sea farm” and new economic activities. “All preparations have been made for being adopted, in terms of location, in the Marine Spatial Plan – in 2020 at the earliest. To achieve this and to have this area recognised as a classified shellfish production area, we are looking at the next stages”, Willy Versluys from Brevisco bvba confirms.

Philippe De Backer, Secretary Of State for the North Sea, adds: “Our national dish is mussels with fries. I’m very pleased to see that within some time, we will be able to serve true Belgian mussels. I believe that our North Sea has the ability to become a true sea farm on the long term, which will be a breeding base for not only mussels but also oysters and seaweeds. As Secretary Of State, I want to put further focus on this. That is why I have foreseen extra space within the Marine Spatial Plan to offer all opportunities to these innovative projects. We need to be a trendsetter in Europe in this matter as well.

Today the mussels are therefore still part of a research project. The ultimate aim is to market these Belgian mussels under Boni Selection, the Colruyt Group’s private label. Stefan Goethaert, Director of Colruyt Group Fine Food: “We believe there’s certainly a market for Belgian mussels. As soon as scaling-up is a reality, this product can be marketed, but considering we are now still in an innovation project with a proof-of-concept, this may take some time. A lot will also depend on the Marine Spatial Plan. Marketing, in other words, is certainly not for now, but the future already looks promising”.

Integrated farm: what is this exactly?

These mussels have been farmed for the first time in an integrated way: on the one hand, with a combination of aquaculture production and wind energy and, on the other hand, with a combination of different kinds of aquaculture products. It is the very first time globally that mussels are being farmed using rafts on wind farms (with Parkwind and C-Power as businesses that help make this possible). Because shipping is regulated, this area forms a unique space for aquaculture. “The next generation of wind farms will also be producing food in addition to energy”, according to Wannes Voorend, biotechnologist at the Colruyt Group.

An IMTA (IMTA (Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture) working method is being applied to the Value@Sea project. Daan Delbaere of ILVO explains: “We farm shell fish and seaweeds. You can compare it with a circular economy: the excretion products from one species is the food for another. This is how they sustain each other and it’s always a sustainable way of working. Moreover, the whole principle works in a purifying way because waste is extracted and there is no addition of nutritious substances. This is unique in Europe: we’re going for a multiple use of space by combining activities.

New local marine products: not just mussels on the tables of the future

In a world in which the space on land is becoming increasingly scarce, looking for alternative proteins is still a challenge. Marine agriculture and aquaculture (= offshore cultivation and farming) may be the answer: there is great potential in oceans. Barely 2% of human food consumption currently comes from the sea. There is therefore still enormous untapped potential.

To achieve this, multi-disciplinary collaboration is needed to develop a suitable production system for mussels, oysters and seaweed. The sea is after all a very challenging environment. Margriet Drouillon, Aquaculture business developer at UGent indicates: “North Sea Aquaculture gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our Flemish expertise and knowledge in the North Sea, one of the world’s busiest and wildest seas. If we are able to farm offshore, this is a unique showcase for marketing our expertise internationally.” The sustainable cultivation of oysters, seaweed and scallops, in addition to mussels, is also being developed within the North Sea Aquaculture project.

A very instructive process in which the seaweed, for example, was already particularly appreciated by head chef and seaweed specialist Donald Deschagt for the Le Homard et La Moule restaurant, which confirmed outstanding quality and texture. Christof Malysse, wholesale expert at Lobster Fish: “We believe that these top products can be for the catering industry as well as for the top restaurants”.

Unique R&D collaboration from Belgian companies, universities and government

“North Sea Aquaculture” is a research project consisting of two research institute and business consortia. Since 2017, ten partners, together with UGent and ILVO, are looking into the possibilities of innovative cultivation methods for shellfish and seaweed, efficient use of space of the Belgian section of the North Sea and the development of a market for new regional marine products.

Research is being carried out on the coast of Nieuwpoort (oysters, seaweed and scallops – Value@Sea sub-project) and on the Belgian wind farms (mussels EDULIS sub-project). In addition to private-sector contributions, both sub-projects receive support from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and through the Financial Instrument for the Flemish Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector. The multi-sector approach of multi-disciplinary teams and businesses results in a very interesting cross-fertilisation.

The efforts and investments of the “North Sea Aquaculture” project partners, and the results that have been delivered, showcase the strong belief in the opportunity to realise a Flemish commercial marine aquaculture sector. From the Flemish government, we can only encourage this enthusiasm, as the possible positive effects on the local economy will be visible upstream as well as downstream”, concludes Patricia De Clercq, Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture & Fisheries.