A large proportion of mussel fisheries and mussel farming takes place in nature reserves. For this reason, mussel production is governed by strict rules.
Research programmes such as EVA-II (2000 - 2004) and PRODUS (2009 - 2012) have played an important role in the development of a sustainable mussel sector. An example is the gradual transition from dredging the seed mussels from the sea floor to collecting them by means of seed mussel collection systems in the water.
KOMPRO project for the mussel sector
The new multi-year Kennis en Onderzoek voor de MosselPROductie ('Knowledge and Research for Mussel Production' – KOMPRO) project is aimed at bringing together questions from practice with knowledge and research. It revolves around the knowledge required to conduct sustainable business operations and knowledge about social questions related to mussel fisheries and farming. The basic principle of KOMPRO is that all work is carried out in partnership between researchers and mussel farmers.
The project is divided into four themes:
- Permits and the mussel covenant
- Mussel farming practice
- Strategic questions related to generating support within society
- Ad-hoc questions
1. Permits and the mussel covenant
A lot of knowledge and information is needed for the issue of permits to fish for mussel seeds and for the development and implementation of the agreements within the mussel covenant. This covenant was concluded in 2008 between the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the mussel sector and nature conservation organisations, with the aim of progressively reducing bottom fishing in the Wadden Sea. In addition, it gives the sector the opportunity to develop alternative sources of seed mussels. To this end, annual field research is carried out in order to catalogue the extent and dynamics of shellfish stocks and the natural enemies of those shellfish. This research is partly funded by the government programme Wettelijke Onderzoekstaken Schelpdieren (‘Statutory Research Tasks Shellfish’).
2. Mussel farming practice
When growing mussels, it is important to let the seed mussels grow into mussels for consumption as efficiently as possible, with the fewest possible losses. In this project, counts of mussel larvae are carried out in order to obtain a better understanding of the best time to put out so-called seed mussel collection systems in order to catch seed mussels. The growth and survival of the seed mussels after sowing on the mussel beds is tracked in a monitoring programme in the Wadden Sea and the Eastern Scheldt. Another important part of this project is conducting practical experiments with mussel farmers. For example, this involves looking into the best density for sowing seed mussels on the beds, the impact of crabs and starfish on mussel mortality and the effectiveness of fishing gear.
3. Strategic questions related to generating support within society
Mussel fishing and mussel farming take place in the open waters of the Eastern Scheldt and the Wadden Sea; these are protected areas in which many other parties also have a stake. Support is required within society in order to be able to use those areas. Sustainable shellfish culture means that it is economically viable, has the least possible impact on nature and is accepted by society. This subsidiary project tackles the knowledge questions arising from the long-term strategy of the mussel sector. For example, we examine to what extent mussel farming contributes to the ecological value of the Western Wadden Sea, what the effect of mussel farming is on food availability (capacity) for other shellfish, and which other effects farming and fisheries have on ecology and water quality.
4. Ad-Hoc questions
Many knowledge questions cannot be foreseen in advance and they can sometimes arise suddenly. For mussel growers, it is important that expertise is available when they have questions that are important for the continuity of mussel cultivation. Assuring this knowledge is an explicit element of the KOMPRO project. Researchers actively follow developments which may be of interest to the mussel sector, so that additional research can be carried out quickly in response if necessary.
In order to address questions from growers in a swift and accessible manner, the Mussel Breeding Helpdesk was set up. Researchers are available to quickly and fully answer questions based on their scientific background.