The UK’s first fully offshore mussel farm on growing shellfish
If scrolling through social media has a tendency to make you feel frazzled, there exists a simple, if unexpected solution: follow more mussel farmers on Instagram. In the midst of an oft cluttered feed, the Instagram posts by Offshore Shellfish from its pioneering farm in Devon are therapeutic indeed: sunrises, sunsets, dolphins following the boats and even – it’s as if they paint it on – the odd arcing rainbow.
It’s almost, but not quite, as good as being there. And having started farming mussels on Loch Etive on Scotland’s west coast, Offshore’s Managing Director John Holmyard now runs his family business from Brixham in sunny Devon. Synonymous with great shellfish, and handsome to boot, the bustling harbour town is an idyllic place to work from (even if John’s office doesn’t have a sea view). The family, however, are more interested in what’s happening a few miles out in the waters of Lyme Bay, where their farm lies.
“We’re the first farm to go fully offshore,” says Holmyard. “Our longlines are between three and six miles from the coast, and the mussel larvae settle naturally on them in late spring, then continue to grow on the many miles of rope we have suspended beneath headlines buoyed up with our own design of float.”
While the open ocean is subject to storms (anchors screwed into the seabed make sure nothing moves in bad weather), it’s perfect for cultivating mussels with plump, juicy meat. “The waters are full of natural plankton that the mussels feed on, and the temperature of the water there is ideal for mussel growth,” says Holmyard. “They can reach harvest size in just over a year.”
It’s good news for seafood connoisseurs and general consumers alike that the company’s harvest boats, such as the Holly Mai, head back to shore carrying their tempting bounty. And right now, if you can’t get to your usual fishmonger or supermarket, you can still buy mussels online.
But it’s also good to know that mussels, as Holmyard explains, “need no chemicals, no fertilisers, no medicines and no artificial food. They also absorb carbon from the sea in their shells”.
The farm is even believed to be enhancing the habitat for other sea life. An environmental research team from the University of Plymouth is using acoustic tracking technology to find out more about the positive impact of the ropes used for collecting the mussels, which act as a floating reef, and provide shelter and food to other species.
A mussel farmer’s job is never done, and that’s especially true when the work is as pioneering as this. “I like being out on the boat, checking how the mussels are growing and working out how to make the farm even better,” says Holmyard. “Because our farm is the first of its kind, there are no manuals on how to do it, and we have the excitement of using our own ideas and innovations and then seeing how they work out. When it all goes well, at the end of a good day, it’s great to see the boat come into harbour.”
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