Organic rope grown mussels ready for harvest at Blackshell Farm Ltd. Photo: Dr. Ronan Cooney, NUI Galway

Clew Bay included in ShellAqua ecosystems services research project

CLEW Bay is part of a new NUI Galway aquaculture project to quantify ecosystem services provided by the Irish shellfish sector.

The new research project, ShellAqua, aims to quantify the ecosystem services, that is the benefits to human wellbeing provided by the natural environment from healthy ecosystems, potentially provided by shellfish aquaculture.

Industry partners who supported the ShellAqua application included Westport-based Blackshell Farm.

ShellAqua has received funding from Bord Iascaigh Mhara. The project, led by the MOREFISH group, an aquaculture research unit based within the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, began in May. The group specialises in the incorporation of life cycle assessment and circular economy models for the seafood sector in Ireland.

The project was developed from partnerships and engagement with industry through the Atlantic Area Interreg project, NEPTUNUS.

It has four goals, each formed around producing tangible outputs for society, industry and wider stakeholders:

* Develop an ecosystem services-based tool using operational and monitoring data for case-study shellfish aquaculture sites. These datasets will be developed using laboratory scale experiments and on-site monitoring.

* Develop life cycle datasets on mussel and oyster production in order to produce a tool that will allow operators and producers to continue monitoring their environmental performance after the project concludes.

* Assess the economic benefits of the outputs from the preceding goals. The results of the previous work packages will be used to estimate the value of the ecosystems services provided by shellfish aquaculture at the case-study sites.

* Engage in knowledge transfer of methods, results and approaches. Industry partners and stakeholders will be actively engaged throughput the project through a series of workshops and training events.

Industry partners who supported the application included Coney Island Shellfish Ltd., Blackshell Farm, and Kelly Oysters. The application was also supported by the community-based organisation Cuan Beo and the representative body for Irish Aquaculture, Irish Farmers’ Association Aquaculture.

The locations of these sites will allow for the development of datasets and profiling of mussel (Mytilus edulis) and oyster (Crassostrea gigas) aquaculture in Galway Bay, Clew Bay, Sligo Harbour and Drumcliff Bay.

Said Michael Mulloy, chairman of the IFA's aquaculture committee and owner of Blackshell Farm: “The ShellAqua project is valuable for the future and helps take the industry in the direction we need to go. The project will provide the tools we need to verify the sustainability of our industry.”

Frank Carter of Coney Island Shellfish Ltd. and aquaculture representative of the Northwest Regional Inshore Fisheries Forum said: "Coney Island Shellfish Ltd. supports the ShellAqua project in its aim to equip the shellfish industry to assess its own environmental impact and, using the tools developed by the project, demonstrate its ability to contribute positively to the climate change agenda. In so doing, the industry will be empowered to actively engage in the drive towards environmental protection and the preservation of biodiversity, while continuing to produce a healthy and sustainable food source.”

The expected outcomes from ShellAqua will include farm level tools to estimate carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous removal (i.e. ecosystem services), a sustainability tool, valorisation strategies for shellfish waste streams and knowledge transfer. Through developing this network with a focus on strong industry engagement, it is expected that research outputs from future projects can proactively support industry identified needs.

Diarmuid Kelly, chair of Cuan Beo, said: “While we have always known the importance of having healthy bivalve populations within our bays, this project will provide us with the scientific evidence of the ecosystem services provided by such communities. It will also give us the necessary information needed to inform policy makers of the benefits of protecting shellfish waters.”