Out in the middle of Lyme Bay off the English South coast is, to my mind, a pioneering project in producing shellfish protein on a massive scale.
John and Nick Holmyard and family are coming to the fruition of a 10 year vision of growing mussels offshore. If they succeed, which I am sure they will, the benefits could be enormous when replicated around the world.
The advantages are obvious. More space to work in and at full capacity the Offshore Shellfish sites covering a relatively small area of sea could produce as much mussel tonnage per year as all the mussel farms of Scotland.
And just as important, offshore the water is constantly clean so the mussels are less vulnerable to the inshore threats of pollution and other effluent discharges.
When I went out last Autumn with John and the Offshore Shellfish crew it was fascinating how much of the technology was bespoke, often designed and commissioned by John, even the buoys that mark the ropes and the anchors that keep them in place are custom built. Much of this the fruits of international research trips to find the best practice from around the world.
The loops of rope effectively form a suspended forest underwater becoming a home for a wide range of biodiversity, not just mussels. John says that in New Zealand they have found that the angling trip boats head for the mussel farms as this is where the big fish are, feeding among the columns of mussels.
And when they haul the ropes up, you are struck by the blackness and thinness of the mussel shell and their large size. They were truly magnificent to eat.
If mussels and other shellfish can be grown like this on a huge scale then enough protein could be produced on an sound ecological and sustainable basis to be a serious protein alternative to meat, which is a must if we are to tackle climate change and feed the world.
Perhaps John, Nicki and their team have cracked the production capacity problem leaving the real challenge of communications in changing UK attitudes and behaviour towards mussels and other shellfish. Climate change doesn’t give us much time.