Putting BC Grown Mediterranean Mussels on the Menu

May 31, 1999 - 5:00pm

Nanaimo, Victoria and Lower Mainland restaurants may soon add B.C. grown Mediterranean mussels to their menus thanks to innovative research funded by Malaspina University-College.

Last spring, Malaspina’s Technology Transfer Centre helped fund a special research project initiated by Island Sea Farms on Saltspring Island to produce mussel seed and compare growth rates of juvenile species.

The project was so successful that Island Sea Farms plans to expand and build a 1200 square foot hatchery - the first of its kind in North America dedicated to the production of juvenile mussels.

Island Sea Farms’ first crop of locally grown Mediterranean mussels will be ready to harvest in June. The company plans to sell the product to wholesalers throughout B.C. and western United States. At the present time, 90 percent of the mussels served in B.C. restaurants come from Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

"Some B.C. producers have sporadically produced mussels over the past years, but not on a year-round basis," says Paul Simpson, co-owner of Island Sea Farms.

Island Sea Farms acquired salt water leases for the Gulf Islands three years ago and began growing Mediterranean mussels using seed purchased from Washington State. Last year, the company decided to research the possibility of growing its own seed because "our U.S. suppliers weren’t reliable," says Simpson.

Island Sea Farms collaborated with the Pacific Biological Station, the National Research Council and faculty in Malaspina’s Fisheries and Aquaculture program to get their research project underway.

"That was when we were told Malaspina’s Technology Transfer Centre may be able to help us out," says Simpson.

The Centre was established on the Nanaimo campus two years ago to assist local industry, faculty, staff and students in working collaboratively on applied research projects. Technology Centre funding enabled Island Sea Farms to hire Malaspina fisheries and aquaculture student Guillaume Peribere to conduct research last summer.

"We liked Guillaume so much that we hired him full-time at the end of the summer as an aquaculture technician," says Simpson. "He's conducting more research for us at the Pacific Biological Station. We’ll hire more Malaspina graduates from the Fisheries and Aquaculture program in the future because we’re very impressed in their academic performance, research skills and practical experience. We can’t get anybody more skilled or qualified from any other institution."

A key production problem the company faced was the expense of growing algae in a laboratory. "We needed to release the juvenile mussels into the open ocean as quickly as possible to feed naturally," says Simpson. "Guillaume’s research helped us figure out how to accomplish that." Unlike oyster or clam seed - which live on the bottom of the ocean - mussels "hang" in the water as they grow. Guillaume discovered that hanging the mussel seed on coconut fibre from Sri Lanka - similar to twine - helped suspend mussel seed in the water. "Using this method, the survival rates of the juvenile mussels were quite high," says Simpson.

Simpson himself attended Malaspina in 1978 in first year Economics before earning a Masters Degree in Business Administration at UBC. He then studied and worked in Japan for nine years in the fisheries and aquaculture industry.

"It was great to arrive back home all these years later to discover that a Technology Transfer Centre exists in Nanaimo to help new businesses with start-up and research," he says.

"Research is critical to new companies like ours," he adds. We wouldn’t have been able to come this far, or to conduct this research without the technical talent and expertise of Malaspina’s Fisheries and Aquaculture faculty, staff and students, or without the financial help of the Technology Transfer Centre.

"We’re especially pleased with the dedication of Malaspina faculty, particularly Linda Townsend, Fisheries and Aquaculture Technican, and Dr. Bill Pennell, head of the Fisheries and Aquaculture department, who acted as academic sponsors of Guillaume during the research project," says Simpson.

Jane Atcheson-Groves, coordinator of the Technology Transfer Centre, says the Centre’s mission is "to encourage students to work with faculty on applied research projects that support the local industry and our local mid-island regional economy.

"Developing skills locally and applying them within the region enhances economic development and improves business," says Atcheson-Groves. "Malaspina’s Fisheries and Aquaculture department is at the forefront in our region in such activities. We regularly send students to work in industry and we invite industry to come to Malaspina with problems for students and staff to study. The students gain valuable technical work experience in the Vancouver Island region, while at the same time develop contacts which can lead to summer employment, during Co-op work periods, or after graduation."

Atcheson-Groves encourages businesses with ideas for research projects to contact her at the Technology Transfer Centre at 741-2687 or by email at techctr@viu.ca.

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