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Mussel Farmers Concerned over Water Quality

by Ellen Hardy
19 June 2008, at 1:00am

UK - Falmouth and Camborne MP Julia Goldsworthy led a debate in Parliament this week, to raise local mussel farmers' concerns about declining water quality on the Fal River, which they fear is threatening their business.


Falmouth and Camborne MP Julia Goldsworthy

Water quality on the Fal is measured in different ways by both the Environment Agency and the Port Health Authority. While the Environment Agency's spot checks show that standards are improving, monitoring undertaken by the Port Health Authority for the Food Standards Agency has resulted in the downgrading of the quality of the mussels farmed on the river.

The downgrading of the water quality has meant an ever-increasing burden on mussel-growers in the Fal. When the farms started in 2001, the water quality was a good 'B' classification all year round, but this has steadily worsened, with the quality now 'C' during the winter. There are concerns that there are Food Standards Agency proposals in the pipeline to downgrade the sites to class 'C' all year round.

Class C water requires the mussels to go through a hugely labour intensive and costly process of 'relaying' before they are sold, where they are harvested, transported to a clean area, placed in the sea for 2 months and then reharvested. Farmers being forced to carry out this process say that the viability of their businesses would be in serious doubt if they were required to go through this process all year round.

The industry produces 400 tonnes of mussels a year which sell for £4 million, and supports, directly and indirectly, 100 jobs.

Ms Goldsworthy said: "At the moment, the results of the Environment Agency monitoring say one thing, while the Food Standards Agency says another. There is a need for joined-up government on this issue, so that effective action can be taken to prevent the mussel farming sites from being downgraded further, and to safeguard important jobs locally.

"Investigation is taking place at a local level to find out why the test results are inconsistent, but the mussel farmers need to know that the investigation will be followed by joint action to resolve the problem. This will require clear guidance and regulation from government, but also co-operation at a local level. Both are absent at present, and the future of mussel farming on the Fal depends on it."

Ellen Hardy