Can open-ocean mussel farming be lucrative?

By

Mercedes Grandin, SeafoodSource contributing editor

Published on
December 20, 2009

As part of a plan to support local fishermen and establish a new fishery, the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass., this month launched a pilot project to test blue mussel farming in the offshore waters of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Four experimental mussel farms have been set up in Vineyard Sound off Martha’s Vineyard and in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. Funded by a USD 214,000 (EUR 149,415) grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the project is being supported by Massachusetts and Rhode Island lobstermen, scallopers and oyster farmers, who will be compensated for the use of their boats and labor.

The project uses an open-ocean system pioneered by University of New Hampshire researchers. It uses 500-foot buoyant longlines anchored and suspended 30 feet below the ocean surface to hold hundreds of biodegradable “socks” filled with mussel seed.

“The high currents supply ample food to promote fast growing mussels,” said project coordinator Scott Lindell, director of the MBL’s scientific aquaculture program. The new technique also helps deter predators such as starfish and pea crabs, he added.

The first crop of mussels from the project is expected to be harvested next spring. Lindell’s team is working to secure funding to develop best management practices to help streamline the permitting and management for new offshore mussel farms.

The goal is to get dozens of southern New England fishermen to tend to the longlines, with each longline producing 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of mussels annually.

“The potential exists to create a multi-million dollar sustainable industry involving local fishermen, existing shore-side infrastructure and an underutilized natural resource,” said Bill Silkes, president of American Mussel Harvesters in North Kingstown, R.I., which is contributing mussel seed to the project.

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