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'In nature, one female mussel might spawn thirty or forty million eggs. The vast majority of those won’t survive...', Rodney Roberts - SPATnz

Mussel breeding programme expected to generate USD 126m a year

Click on the flag for more information about New Zealand NEW ZEALAND
Friday, October 18, 2019, 22:00 (GMT + 9)

Nelson based Greenshell mussel company SPATnz is publicly releasing the startling results of its multi-year breeding programme developed in partnership with Sanford, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Cawthron Institute. The results show that selected hatchery mussels can grow up to twice as fast as those caught from the wild. The work is expected to be worth around NZD 200 million (USD 126.5 million) a year to the wider New Zealand economy.

SPATnz Programme Manager Rodney Roberts says his team, and all who were involved, are thrilled with the results.

“The final results from this seven-year Primary Growth Partnership programme have exceeded all our expectations. We have compared growth rates for mussel spat from our hatchery with those collected in the wild from both Golden Bay and Kaitaia. The trials show our mussels get to market size at a significantly faster rate. SPATnz Greenshell mussels took on average 16.7 months to grow from seed to harvest size, versus 28.3 months for the weighted average of the wild caught varieties – nearly a year faster.

“The biggest contrast was with Kaitaia mussels, which are the main seed source for the industry. The quickest of three hatchery strains halved the growing time of Kaitaia mussels in Marlborough, which is a pretty incredible result.”

The mussel breeding programme results are a true team effort, the result of a collaboration between New Zealand seafood industry leader Sanford and highly respected independent science organisation Cawthron Institute. Cawthron’s MBIE-funded Cultured Shellfish programme developed the fundamentals of the selective breeding programme in anticipation of hatchery spat production. Commercialisation of the selective breeding was then jointly funded by Sanford Ltd and MPI through the Primary Growth Partnership.

MPI’s Director Investment Programmes Steve Penno says the results are great news for the mussel sector.

“Faster growing mussels means more of this great product will be available to consumers both in New Zealand and around the world. MPI is investing in SPATnz as it has the potential to be a real game-changer for New Zealand’s Greenshell mussel industry, delivering benefits for mussel farmers, our economy and the environment. The latest growth rate results provide solid proof that we’re on the right track, and what’s possible through collaboration.”

Sanford CEO Volker Kuntzsch says the success of SPATnz is an excellent example of the benefits of innovation and collaboration.

“At Sanford we are real believers that you cannot achieve great things without great team work and these results from SPATnz are proof of that. Wider utilisation of this spat will see a potential increase in sales for the New Zealand mussel sector of NZD 229 million a year by 2026 which means a thriving mussel industry, more regional jobs and stronger regional economies. With an ambitious and exciting goal from the New Zealand Government for the aquaculture sector to be worth NZD 3 billion in annual sales by 2035, this is a great stepping stone towards that target.”

Mr Kuntzsch is also recognising the wider environmental benefits of the work saying “the mussel breeding programme will also help us to mitigate the impact of climate change on New Zealand’s aquaculture sector.”

Mr Roberts confirms that his team’s work can help manage the increased uncertainty produced by climate change.

“What we have done is selectively breed by choosing some of the best mussels that nature has to offer as the parents to produce our mussel families. Careful selective breeding can help future-proof the New Zealand mussel industry against threats like ocean acidification, global warming and disease.”

Cawthron CEO, Professor Charles Eason says he is delighted with the outcome of the work and the partnerships involved.

“It is really exciting for Cawthron and our partners to have these results from a long-term research and development relationship delivering real-world impact, adding value to a unique New Zealand resource and helping realise sustainable farming and employment opportunities around our country.”

Indeed, the programme has the potential to deliver much more than just economic benefits as New Zealand’s Greenshell Mussels are green in more than just name. Rodney Roberts says “shellfish generally are an extremely sustainable food and that is very true of Greenshell mussels. Compared to other forms of animal protein, they have an extremely light touch on the environment.”

As well as faster growth, SPATnz and Cawthron are focusing on other characteristics that selective breeding can promote, such as better mussel condition, as well as looking at enhancing the renowned anti-inflammatory qualities of Greenshell mussels.

SPATNZ operations manager Dan McCall in the settlement unit (Photo: courtesy of stuff.co.nz)

Volker Kuntzsch says with mussel powder and oil highly sought after on global markets, there is so much potential here for growth.

“Sanford is already exploring the incredible opportunities in the nutraceuticals market. Greenshell mussels have proven anti-inflammatory benefits and this work can only enhance that. We have something very unique and exciting on our hands here.”

Mr Roberts is also feeling very optimistic about the future. “There may be no Olympic Games for mussels, but if there were, you could certainly say our Greenshell mussels are taking the motto ‘faster, higher, stronger’ to heart, except in our case, it is more like faster, fatter, stronger. We believe they are a wonderful kiwi success story for both science and business.”


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