The greatest (seafood) show on earth


Nicki Holmyard reports on Seafood Expo Global, with a shellfish industry perspective

A visit to Seafood Expo Global (SEG) is an overwhelming experience for the senses, with all manner of fish, shellfish, seaweed products and equipment on display, the sound of thousands of exhibitors and visitors discussing business, the aroma of cooking demonstrations and tasting sessions, and an all-pervading smell of the sea. Multiply this through five vast halls, and it’s easy to see why it takes three days to do the expo justice.

On the farmed shellfish front, there were mussels, scallops, oysters, clams, sea cucumbers and sea urchins galore, and I even heard about a Norwegian company producing a farmed tunicate burger!

There were oysters aplenty from France, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain and the UK, and as far afield as Canada, the US and China.

The French Pavilion featured many oyster companies, who exhibited according to their region. Brittany, Normandy and Marennes-Oleron in particular offered a vast choice, and I discovered that there are 12 main growing areas for oysters in Brittany alone. Suppliers of seed oysters were also in evidence.

The oyster choice included native flat oysters (Ostrea edulis) known as huîtres plates, or Belons if they are grown in the Belon river estuary in Brittany. There was a large selection of Pacific oysters (Magallana gigas), including fines de claire, specials de claire and pousse en claire, which are finished in knee-deep rectangular salt ponds knows as Claires, for a minimum of one month. This allows the oysters to fatten and to take on a sweeter flavour from the water and phytoplankton in the ponds. Also available were fine de claire verte, which are finished in ponds containing Haslea ostrearia. This diatom produces a water-soluble blue pigment called marennine, which is responsible for turning oyster gills a rich jade colour and also enriches their flavour.

Oysters are ranked according to their size and there were certainly some “whoppers” on display, particularly flat oysters. The size gradings range from 0 – 5 for Pacific oysters and 0 – 6 for flat oysters, and the smaller the number, the larger the oyster. Number 1s for example, weight between 110g and 150g+.

Corinne Raguenel

Corinne Raguenel

With such an impressive choice, I wondered how customers decide on a particular supplier. Corinne Raguenel, who farms oysters in southern Brittany with business partner Christophe Callewaert and sells under their KYS Marine brand, said that for the French, who are spoiled for choice, it comes down to a matter of shape, size, taste, the personal relationships that sellers develop with buyers, and often a touch of “local is best” prejudice.

“We sell all over the world, from local sales in France, to the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy and increasingly in the Far East,” she said.

“We keep the density low in our hanging bag oyster system in order to prioritise quality and find that this enables us to produce oysters with an exceptional meat content and a sweet taste.”

Raguenel explained that in looking for a point of difference, they have concentrated on growing their “Baby Kys” oysters, which are the perfect cocktail size, have full meats, and are in great demand. They are also a great way to tempt younger consumers into the world of oysters.

Oyster products

Oyster products

Mussels of the world
On the mussel front, the Chilean, Danish, Dutch, French, Irish, Scottish and Spanish pavilions stood out for the ever-growing range of prepared products, displayed alongside fresh blue, Mediterranean and bouchot mussels.

French company Mussella, which started out with the aim of finding a home for undersized bouchot mussels less than 12mm, has grown from strength to strength over the past few years.

Director Axel Brière, who comes from a mussel farming family in Pénestin, first developed a market for frozen, cooked bouchot mussel meats, under the Paysans de la Mer brand, then started selling pasteurised mussel juice collected during the cooking process. He later introduced soupe de moules, and this year, produced a mussel pate, named Patamoule, which instantly found a loyal following.

“We initially produced 1,800 small pots of Patamoule, which we thought would take us a long time to sell, but within a few weeks, we were well on our way to selling out,” he said.

Brière is now branching out and has started producing a pack of mussel meat for Irish organic producer Kush.

The Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG), known also as Scottish Shellfish, exhibited on the Scottish stand and displayed its wide range of mussels in sauce packs, which have proved so popular in UK retail outlets. SSMG has also turned its sights on Europe and further afield with the packs, hoping to find new customers for the growing volume of mussels being produced, particularly in Shetland.

Rob Mitchell, Commercial Director with Scottish Shellfish, said: “We have now had a stand at the seafood expo for two years. This year’s first day of the show felt a little quieter, but as it went on, it got busier, and we had a lot of positive conversations with both our existing and potential new customers. Attending also seems like a great way to network with people in the field and learn how other people are getting on. Additionally, I would like to thank Scottish Development and Seafood Scotland for another fantastic pavilion area that we utilised extensively for discussions over some great lunches.”

SSMG’s Specially Selected Scottish Cooked Veuve Monsigny® Mussels, developed as a luxury product for Aldi, were selected as a finalist in the Best Retail Product category for the 2024 Seafood Excellence Global Awards at SEG.

Oysters in basket

Oysters in basket

Shellfish tech
In the processing hall, I found Bjørn and Alise Aspøy from SmartFarm AS, a Norwegian company specialising in solutions and technology for farming bivalves, sea squirts and seaweed. The company, which started in 1999, has supplied SmartUnits to 17 countries, including Spain, Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Croatia and Namibia.

The SmartUnits comprise floating pipes that support net structures on which spat is collected and the harvest ongrown, depending on a farmer’s requirements, plus moorings for open water or sheltered sites, and a powered machine to undertake husbandry tasks and harvest the crop.

Bjørn and Alise also farm mussels for sale, and they confided that their latest venture is setting up a greenshell mussel farm in Goa, about 3km off the coast.

Two of the largest companies exhibiting shellfish growing, harvesting and processing machinery were Luciano Cocci from Italy and Murre Techniek from the Netherlands. Both had large stands which displayed their mussel spat collection to fully processed and packaged ranges.

The UK and Scottish stands both featured cookery demonstrations and tasting sessions and reported record numbers of visitors. Mairi Gougeon MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands in the Scottish Parliament, spent a full day talking with Scottish exhibitors.  By contrast, the planned visit of Rt Hon Sir Mark Spencer MP, Minister of State for Food, Farming and Fisheries to the UK Pavilion, failed to take place, to the disappointment but not surprise, of standholders and visitors who had been keen to engage with him.


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