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The Rising Tide


This report is a Review of the Bottom Grown (BG) Mussel Sector on the Island of Ireland conducted on behalf of the departments of agriculture for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the Loughs Agency and supported by a Secretariat provided by the Aquaculture Initiative EEIG.

Executive Summary

The BG mussel sector, on all parts of the island of Ireland, has undergone many changes over the last ten years. Overall it has been a successful period, characterised by strong market demand for the product and significant inflows of investment both from within the island and from international sources, most notably from the Netherlands. In many ways the sector has been the powerhouse of Irish aquaculture, forging ahead while other types of fish farming have struggled to make progress. It is now a valuable industry generating significant value from an indigenous resource that undoubtedly has scope for further positive development.

The picture however has not been uniformly positive. A rapid expansion in output has been experienced in some areas, whilst other, longer established locations, have struggled to cope with the introduction of mandatory vessel safety legislation. At the same time the EU has barred member states from granting financial assistance for fishing vessel purchase or renewal and this set of twin circumstances has driven ownership change amongst the established operators in the sector. Against this backdrop the other overriding characteristic of the period has been an intense and unprecedented competition amongst the producers for access to the wild seed mussel resource.

All of these changes have created pressures on the regulatory arrangements and on the infrastructure supporting the sector. These pressures, largely generated by the industry’s own success in expanding its output and range, has led to demand from producers for a wide ranging review in clear recognition that reform of many aspects of the administration and regulation of the sector was urgently needed. The challenge for the BG mussel industry now is to effectively manage all of this change and success so as to permanently capture the progress that has been made and to ensure that the further potential of the sector is unlocked in a way that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.

This Review, carried out by a working group drawn from DARD, DAFF and the Loughs Agency, under a Terms of Reference set by the ministers in the two jurisdictions and supported by a Secretariat provided by the Aquaculture Initiative EEIG, sets out a series of analyses and recommendations to address the key deficiencies in the current arrangements. A guiding policy statement was used to underpin the Review and to form the basis for the subsequent recommendations.

The purpose of the regulation and management regime for the seed mussel resource shall be to ensure the sustainable exploitation of the wild mussel seed resource and to maximise the benefits derived from that resource in terms of volume and value of the mussel crop subsequently grown, harvested and processed with the objective of generating sustainable economic activity and employment in coastal communities.


Effective marketing and market-led development has to be the cornerstone of any progressive industry. Evidence from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other sources shows that the demand for seafood is increasing the world over, and this clear and growing demand represents an opportunity for the BG mussel sector on the island of Ireland. The projections reliably predict that there is significant opportunity for future growth in the seafood market both at home and abroad. Mussels are an almost ideal form of seafood in marketing terms as they encompass within their product range the key characteristics of health, indulgence and convenience.

From a marketing perspective, most of the output of BG mussels from the island of Ireland is exported in an undifferentiated bulk form and it is evident that there is scope to add significant value. Therefore, key objectives for the coming years should be to:

  • Improve and diversify the product offering.

  • Develop a distinct and ‘valorised’ identity for BG mussels from the island of Ireland.

  • Improve supplier/buyer relations, thus securing the key relationships in the existing market.

  • Take advantage of growing consumer demand for seafood, by positioning BG mussels correctly in the market.

Summary of marketing recommendations

  1. The development agencies to actively work with BG mussel operators on the island of Ireland on the promotion of labelled IQM quality assured mussels into the Dutch-supplied marketplace.

  2. The development agencies to engage in a market development programme for BG mussels from the island of Ireland in the French market place, including an awareness campaign and inward journalist visits.

  3. That further investment is made in market research and intelligence.

  4. That improved services for commercially focused Research and Development/New Product Development (NPD) be provided by the relevant agencies.


An environmental assessment of the BG mussel culture industry throughout the island of Ireland was carried out by Poseidon-Aquatic Resource Management Ltd, the full text of the environmental assessment is included in Appendix 3. The environmental assessment was conducted within the context of the existing series of agreements and cross-border mechanisms for the management of the sector, in particular the seed fishery.

Given that a number of the recommendations made by the independent review of the environmental sustainability of the BG grown mussel sector are already underway, it is clear that the industry is well aware of its interaction with the natural environment and that it is being proactive in continually improving its environmental performance.

Overall the sector has a low environmental impact, especially in the areas of visual impact, noise, odour, water, landscape and material assets. Resource use (seed allocation) and ecological impacts (benthic impacts) require a greater level of understanding, and this will be progressively addressed by the recommended research priorities, proposed stock tracking system and fishing schedules. The more structured approach to the management of licensed areas and to seed allocations as laid out in the main recommendations of the Review will enhance the effectiveness of existing and new environmental management mechanisms, thereby contributing to the sustainable development of the sector.

Summary of environmental recommendations

  1. That the competent authorities continue the appropriate assessment process where aquaculture sites for BG cultivation lie within or adjacent to NATURA 2000 sites.

  2. That the Commencement Orders be introduced in 2008 to implement the new regime in Lough Foyle.

  3. That the existing range of safeguards regarding management of pest species is maintained.

  4. That science-based planning and management of the decision-making processes is improved.

  5. Research projects should be brought forward using a coordinated approach with a greater emphasis on industry engagement.
  6. The ongoing development of the ECOPACT, CLAMS and ICZM processes.

  7. Further consideration and investigation into using intertidal areas to boost seed mussel productivity should be undertaken by the BGMCF in conjunction with the relevant authorities.

  8. That existing and emerging issues in individual growing areas be addressed through the work of the proposed BGMCF.

Administrative arrangements

Arising from the consultative process and learning from the experiences of the long established Dutch industry, there is a strong consensus that the administrative arrangements employed to support the BG mussel sector require a radical restructuring. The clear conclusion of the SWOT analysis is that the current set of arrangements is not satisfactory. The sector is fragmented and there is a requirement for a higher level of administrative resource than is currently available. This set of circumstances is not surprising, given the complex inter-jurisdictional nature of the industry and its recent rapid expansion.

For the BG mussel sector on the island of Ireland to be competitive and sustainable there is general agreement that the end product of any restructuring should result in a set of arrangements and practices with the following characteristics:

  • An all-island management regime (for both seed mussel fishing and the subsequent on-growing) that tracks the fate and performance of all stocks from the point of seed collection to sale of the end product.

  • Over time, the system should give preferential access to the wild seed mussel resource to those operators who are shown to make best use of it, as defined by the guiding policy set out in the terms of reference of this Review. Thus, the annual allocation of seed mussel fishing permissions will need to be influenced by an incentive based system that rewards good practice and high productivity in the on-growing of seed mussel on licensed aquaculture plots.

  • The terms and conditions of the management regime together with its operation should be transparent and enforced consistently and predictably across the whole island, notwithstanding the fact that there is more than one legal jurisdiction in operation.

  • The management regime’s decision-making processes should involve all the key industry stakeholders in an appropriate way; be knowledge based and market-led; commercially aware and environmentally sustainable.

  • The revised arrangements should be in line with modern regulatory best practice and involve selfdeclaration by the operators underpinned by appropriate surveillance and audit with commensurate incentives and penalties that are clear, proportionate and consistently applied.

Summary of administrative recommendations

  1. Immediately form the All-island BG Mussel Consultative Forum (BGMCF) (The recommended timeline and approach for the formation of the BGMCF is set out in Section 7).

  2. That a dedicated Secretariat be formed immediately to service the sector and the BGMCF.

  3. That the feasibility of the introduction of a cost recovery scheme be investigated by the government departments, in the context of issuing seed mussel fishing permits and that any revenue generated be deployed to fund the activities of the BGMCF and its secretariat.

  4. That the Aquaculture Initiative EEIG in the first instance be tasked with providing the Secretariat function under the terms of an explicit service contract negotiated with both Departments and the Loughs Agency.

  5. That an appropriate and mandatory stock tracking system be developed introduced and administered under the aegis of the BGMCF. The responsibility for commissioning this task is to lie with the Secretariat.

  6. That the BGMCF Secretariat be tasked with providing a confidential reporting service, consistent with FOI and data protection requirements to the Departments and the Loughs Agency in the context of seed mussel allocation, based on the data collected by the stock tracking system.

  7. The BGMCF to prioritise the implementation of a new mandatory stock tracking system, with a view to having the key elements in place and functioning prior to the start of the 2008 season.

  8. The seed mussel allocations are left static until the dataset from the stock tracking system is available.

  9. That ‘local’ seed settlements within the confines of a particular Lough should, as a general rule, be fished and relayed in that Lough. Nevertheless, the operators benefiting from that spat fall should have their Irish Sea allocation reduced by the amount they gained locally, either in the same season if possible, or the following season.

  10. To restrict any further net increase in the square area of licensed aquaculture plots for BG mussel cultivation until the end of 2009 at the earliest.

  11. The Review Group recommended that DAFF, DARD, SFPA and the Loughs Agency meet on a regular basis with a view to harmonising policy and enforcement arrangements.

  12. That the control and enforcement authorities afford the BG mussel sector a high priority in their resource planning and allocation.

  13. That the BGMCF be tasked, via an appropriate sub-committee, to design and coordinate the operation of an annual large-scale seed mussel spat fall survey, together with a possible secondary targeted survey for confirmatory purposes later in the season.

  14. That the ‘fishing schedule’ approach be adopted as the appropriate model to underpin the management of the seed mussel fisheries across the jurisdictions. The Secretariat of the BGMCF would be tasked with drawing up the template and the first draft of the protocol for agreement by the BGMCF.

  15. That there is a discount and a surcharge element to the cost recovery scheme, which will be determined by the survey sub-committee.

  16. That the BGMCF Secretariat be given read-only access to the ‘black box’ data, subject to data protection legislation and that it be tasked with systematically archiving the data.

  17. That the BGMCF Secretariat be tasked with commissioning a suitable secure web based view-only interface to enable the operators, (subject to compliance with the data protection legislation and other legal considerations) in the sector to electronically observe activity in the sector.

  18. That the regulatory authorities should explore the possibility of extending the black box system to all vessels involved in fishing for mussels.

  19. That all seed mussel dredgers fishing around the island of Ireland be required to carry aboard a suitably graduated sounding rod allowing for an accurate calculation of their cargo on a volumeper- unit-of-depth basis. At the completion of each fishing operation and prior to departure from the grounds, the vessel skipper would be required to perform a sounding of the holds and enter a catch figure in the record following a standard calculation protocol. This estimate would be subject to verification on inspection by duly authorised enforcement officers.

  20. That the BGMSCF should form a ‘technical sub-committee’ which would have a remit to draw up detailed specifications for technical applied research tasks (desk based and field as appropriate) required to be done to support increased efficiency in the sector. The sub-committee would seek to have these tasks carried out in collaboration with the appropriate research service providers.


In order to ensure the timely implementation of the complex recommendations set out in this Review, it is necessary to have a detailed implementation plan. An appropriate plan, which assigns responsibility for each task together with the necessary timeframe for completion, is presented in Section 7.

It is envisaged that the BGMSCF will become the main implementation body for the recommendations once it is established; however in the interim it is recommended that an interim implementation group (IIG) is established immediately. The IIG should be a small executive grouping of no more than three appropriately experienced individuals, acting in an honorary capacity directly appointed by the Departments and the Loughs Agency. A schedule of immediate priority actions for the IIG is set out in Section 7.

Further Reading

More information - You can view the full report by clicking here.

June 2008