Shucking champs and naked clams

Students investigate the “naked clams” project

Despite the absence of politicians thanks to the election, the SAGB Conference covered the whole range of the UK’s shellfish sector, as Nicki Holmyard reports

There’s always room for the best laid plans to go astray, and this is the situation that David Jarrad, CEO of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain (SAGB), found himself in at the end of May just three days before the 54th annual conference. The reason? The recent snap election announcement by the Prime Minister put government, civil servants and public bodies into “pre-election purdah”. This effectively meant that the keynote speaker, Fisheries Minister Mark Spencer MP, and the Shadow Minister for Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) were unable to deliver their speeches, the Defra Policy Lead in Marine and Fisheries Directorate, Thomas Valderrama, was unable to attend, and the MMO (Marine Management Organisation) had to temper its presentation. However, video presentations were supplied by Ministers from the devolved governments of Wales and Scotland.

London Oyster Championships

London Oyster Championships

The lack of government presence did not spoil what is always an excellent and well-attended conference, held this year at the offices of The Crown Estate in London, with a lavish dinner at Fishmongers’ Hall.

Chris Leftwich, Chair of SAGB, opened the conference, saying that there has never been a greater need for a strong trade association for the whole shellfish sector, and with the demise of NUTFA, the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, which was dedicated to the <10 Fleet, SAGB was well placed to embrace new members.

He reflected on the global insecurities affecting trade, and issues that have affected both farmed and wild-caught shellfish over the past year.

These include: Defra’s refusal to reverse a decision to class Pacific oysters (Magallana gigas) as an invasive, non-native species, with the knock-on effect that landlords such as the Duchy of Cornwall are not renewing licences, and oyster farmers are being forced out of business; profuse rainfall during the winter period affecting rivers and subsequently the coastal area, with 3.6 million hours of sewage spills affecting the classification of shellfish farms; widespread negativity about the water system affecting consumer confidence; and no progress made towards enforcing a “polluter pays” principle, under which fines could be used to improve the water system rather than sinking into government coffers.

SAGB has published two papers related to water quality in the past six months, one of which shows that restricting production will not prevent naturalised spread but suppress ecological and economic benefits to coastal communities, and the other looks at the socio-economic impacts of water quality on the UK’s shellfish aquaculture industry. Both make interesting reading.

Tristan Hugh-Jones wins Seafood Scotland Oyster Shucking Championships

Tristan Hugh-Jones wins Seafood Scotland Oyster Shucking Championships

Oyster updates
On a positive note, the London Oyster Opening Championships were resurrected last year thanks to oyster farmer Tristan Hugh-Jones of Rossmore Oysters and Loch Ryan Oysters, and chef Richard Corrigan and their success means that they will be run yet again in September this year.

David Hugh-Jones, who started farming oysters in Ireland in the late 1960s, gave an enlightening talk about his life-long career during the Members Slot.

Matthew Albon-Crouch, Food and Drink Attaché at the British Embassy in Vietnam, looked at the opportunities for exporting fresh and frozen shellfish products to Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore. He highlighted that the wider Defra Agri-Attaché network offers world-wide coverage to help exporters develop new business.

Stuart McLanaghan, Head of Responsible Sourcing for Seafish, spoke about the Seafood Carbon Emissions Profiling Tool, which has been developed to enable industry to understand the greenhouse gas emissions of their finished seafood products. The tool, which went live on 3 May 2024, will help seafood companies to estimate their carbon footprint, identify emissions hotspots, see how they compare with similar businesses, and be invaluable as a demonstration of green credentials. He encouraged everyone to sign up to this free service, which will become more useful as a benchmarking tool as more people use it.

Konstancja Woźniacka

Konstancja Woźniacka

Seafish Ecosystem Services Researcher Konstancja Woźniacka outlined the results of her work on the ecosystem services of bivalve shellfish.

The benefits include their ability to remove carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus from the environment, and to maintain and improve water quality.

The overall value of marine ecosystem services and societal benefits in the UK is estimated at a staggering £211bn.

Francis Binney and Alexander Plaster, from the Government of Jersey, spoke of the importance of the shellfish aquaculture and fisheries to the island, which now produces one in every three Pacific oysters sold in the UK! Who knew? There is also a thriving lobster, crab and scallop fishery. They also highlighted that as an autonomous and self-governing Crown Dependency, which is officially part of the British Isles, Jersey exporters have been subject to the same major changes in export rules that were introduced during Brexit. These have adversely affected trading relationships with their close neighbour France, and a paper analysing the import and export issues is being prepared.

The UK Sustainable Prawn Project was the subject of a presentation by Rod Wilson, University of Exeter. This project is examining whether land-based (recirculating aquaculture system) prawn farming, built with circular economy principles, using sustainable feed and powered by renewables, can be a viable alternative to importing more than £319m of king prawns (Penaeus vannamei) for UK retail sale alone. It is hoped that a demonstration farm in Scotland will be open soon for tours.

Alex Adrian, Crown Estate Scotland

Alex Adrian, Crown Estate Scotland

Prize in sight
The “size of the prize”, a study commissioned by The Crown Estate and being undertaken by SAGB, was highlighted by Peter Lawrence, Director of Coastal Infrastructure and Minerals with the Crown Estate and Alex Adrian, Aquaculture Operations Manager with Crown Estate Scotland. The study seeks to provide a target for aquaculture growth that can be used to illustrate the vast potential of the farmed shellfish industry to contribute to the economy, food security and the environment; to draw up a roadmap of measures and interventions needed to achieve that; to outline how they should be implemented; and to show the effect of failing to implement them. The aim is for it to be “not just another SWOT analysis but to show what is within our grasp”.

Dr Llucia Masorda-Cabre

Dr Llucia Masorda-Cabre

The Plymouth University-led “Ropes to Reefs” GOV.UK Fisheries Industry Science Partnerships (FISP) project is already showing great promise, according to Dr Llucia Masorda-Cabre. The project is using state-of-the-art equipment to document how sustainable aquaculture delivers both ecosystem and fisheries benefits, the latter through the spillover of commercially valuable species outside the de-facto marine protected area (MPA) provided by a large-scale shellfish farm, which itself provides nursery ground, food and shelter for both fish and shellfish species.

Dr David Willer, Cambridge University, is on a mission to turn “naked clams” – molluscs that devour underwater timber – from pest to profit. He explained that since he went public with his research, on national and social media, it has received more than 40 million views, 1.4 million likes, thousands of comments, and there have been over 40 videos on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

Celebrity chefs have been in touch with recipes they have designed using the clams, and 84% of people who have tried naked clams report liking them.

Much work lies ahead in order to scale up from lab to commercial operation, but Willer hopes to see a naked clam aquaculture sector operational in the UK within five years. He estimates that it could be worth US $64m (£50m) and that the global potential is far higher, at US $9bn (around £7bn).

Eleanor Adamson, The Fishmongers’ Company

Eleanor Adamson, The Fishmongers’ Company

Eleanor Adamson, from The Fishmongers’ Company, told how her frustration that food teachers rarely include seafood in their classes, despite it being in the curriculum, led to her support for the Fish in School Hero programme. Launched in 2019, it has an estimated minimum reach of 90,000 children per year. Several shellfish producers have provided free products for cooking, for which 1,022 schools registered in 2023 and more than 2,500 teachers were trained to be confident in preparing and cooking fish with students.

Feedback from teachers and students has been overwhelming, with many students (and teachers) trying and enjoying mussels, scallops, salmon and whitefish for the first time.

SAGB president Mike Mitchell closed the conference by announcing his retirement and was thanked by all for his service.

Find out more
Restrictions on UK aquaculture of Pacific oyster (Magallana gigas) will not prevent naturalised spread but suppress ecological and economic benefits to coastal communities: bit.ly/SAGB-magallana
Socio-economic Impacts of Water Quality on the UK’s Shellfish Aquaculture Industry: bit.ly/SAGB-waterquality

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