Dutch mussels pursue MSC eco-label

Published on
December 15, 2009

The Dutch Producers’ Organization Mussel Culture on Tuesday announced it is seeking Marine Stewardship Council certification for its bottom seed fishery and culture, and also for seed grown in suspended culture.

The Dutch blue mussel fishery is located in the Waddenzee and Zeeland deltas and is comprised of 65 fishing vessels and 220 hectares of suspended mussel seed collection.

The fishery’s collection system uses mussel seed from wild mussel beds or collected from off-bottom seed mussel catching installations grown on bottom cultivation lots. Trials over the past few years have shown good results when the seeds are laid in managed seabed plots for on-growing. The use of this collection method is expected to increase, as large areas of natural mussel seedbeds have been designated conservation areas to protect bird breeding grounds.

Some farmers are also experimenting with on-growing of mussels to market size on ropes. Around 40 million kilograms of seed mussels are needed each year for relaying on the 6,000-plus hectares of ground that is used for on-growing in the region.

According to Jaap Holstein, secretary of the Dutch Mussel Processors’ Association, MSC certification is a vital move to protect markets, given that European retailers and foodservice companies are increasingly demanding proof of a product’s sustainability.

The main market for Dutch mussels is Belgium, which accounts for 60 percent, followed by France (20 percent) and the domestic market (10 percent). The remainder goes to Germany and other EU markets.

Annual production from the Dutch industry has more than halved in the past decade as a result of seed collection problems, but it is hoped that the decline can be reversed. In 2007, 40.3 million kilograms of market-sized mussels were sold through the auction in Yerseke, falling to 36.8 million kilograms in 2008. This compares with the more than 100 million kilograms sold at the end of the last decade.

The lack of product has led processors to import from other European countries, including Greece, Ireland and the UK, and from Canada and Chile. Some processors have set up special lines to process rope grown mussels from these countries, as they are less robust than the dredged variety the factories are used to handling.

The MSC assessment is being carried out by SGS Nederland BV, which estimates that the process will take around 10 months. Funding for the assessment was made available through a grant from the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.

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