Full house for annual Shellfish Association conference

WITH just two weeks to go to the annual conference of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain (SAGB) on May 19 and 20, director David Jarrad reports a near sell-out.
‘We are thrilled with the level of bookings for our 46th annual event and have just a few places left for the conference and black tie dinner.
‘Anyone still thinking of attending should get in touch as soon as possible to avoid disappointment,’ he said.
Held at Fishmongers’ Hall in London, the conference will be opened by Mike Mitchell, technical and CSR director of Young’s Seafood, giving the annual Drummond Lecture.
He will be followed by keynote speaker Professor Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser to the government.
It also features a host of presentations from experts, including Dr David Fletcher from RAS Aquaculture Research (RASAR), on the viability of commercially culturing the European spiny lobster Palinurus elephas, and Sandy McFarlane from Coastal Resource Specialists, explaining how shellfish farming is finding new converts to ‘Shellfish Action’ programs in the US.
David Fletcher’s presentation will look at the work being undertaken to develop hatchery culture technology for P. elephas, with a view to supporting future diversification of coastal aquaculture.
‘If successful, there is a longer term possibility of initiating stock enhancement programmes to restore depleted UK P. elephas stocks,’ he said.
According to Dr Fletcher, the European spiny lobster has several key biological, ecological, economic and political characteristics that support its commercial culture in the UK using recirculation aquaculture system (RAS) technology, an area that is receiving growing interest from the fish farming sector.
The research, which is part-funded by Natural England, the Welsh Assembly and the European Fisheries Fund, has already identified several of the environmental and physical culture conditions necessary to support the first four larval stages of the spiny lobster, which can take several years to develop, and has also identified the physical qualities of the animal’s preferred fresh feed.
‘We have made good progress in all areas, but need to ensure that commercial scale operations will be viable, so the challenge for the 2015 larval season is to try to develop an artificial feed, and also to optimize water quality,’ he said.
Across the pond, Sandra Macfarlane is working with local communities to encourage shellfish ‘gardening’ projects, in which natural oyster spat is caught using bags of broken shell, then ongrown to provide increased local stocks.
‘This type of collaboration is really growing in popularity in the USA, and oyster projects also have the secondary benefit of helping to control coastal erosion.
‘Some are even used to mitigate impaired water quality, because oysters are natural filter feeders,’ she said.
Most projects are run by volunteers working under the supervision of a project director, and recently, high schools have started to develop curricula that include aquaculture.
For instance, the Harbor School in NY City has an ambitious program called the Billion Oyster Project, which aims to teach high school students the art and science of shellfish cultivation and produce a billion oysters in 20 years.
One community oyster project is already underway in the UK in Somerset, and Sandra Macfarlane hopes that her presentation will encourage others to explore similar ideas.
‘People involved in the projects learn what it takes to get shellfish to the table, gain an understanding of marine systems, shellfish husbandry, water quality and public health issues, and importantly, they become more aware as consumers.
‘Many coastal communities have large retired populations, with people looking for outlets for their time and experience, and a strong desire to ‘give back’.
‘We help them to feel rewarded for their efforts whilst adding more shellfish to the coastal zone, and increasing ecosystem services to society in the process,’ she said.
The conference offers something of interest to all sectors of the shellfish industry, and lively debate is expected during the question and answer sessions.