Returning mussel shells to the sea, turning them into fertiliser or a component of bioplastic were among an ocean of ideas canvassed at an annual Smart+Connected Aquaculture forum last Friday.
Now in its third year, the forum brought together more than 50 people from the marine farming industry, science agencies, Marlborough District Council and other organisations to the Havelock event.
It started with eight 10-minute presentations on the forum’s 2018 theme - maximising value and minimising waste.
Workshops then developed proposals for Smart+Connected Aquaculture’s Value and Innovation working group to pick up and advance during 2019.
One of Friday’s presenters was Nick McMillan from CFARMX, who thanked the group for its forum in 2016 on blue mussels and subsequent support. His company has been awarded $750,000 from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund to open a factory early next year to process blue mussels, initially into aqua feed and pet food.
NIWA’s Sean Handley told the forum that currently mussel shells cost $90 a tonne to take to landfill but could instead help address sedimentation in the Marlborough Sounds which has increased 10-fold since human habitation. Returned shells, which are alkaline, could also help combat ocean acidification.
He said an application has recently been made by the University of Auckland for funding from the Sustainable Farming Fund to restore original mussel beds in the Kenepuru Sound, with support for the proposal from Marlborough District Council, NIWA, MFA and most mussel farming companies including Sanford.
Additional ideas for using shells included spreading them on vineyards to combat weeds and pests and promote grape yields, including them in hot composting systems and using them in bioplastic manufacture.
Other workshops promoted creating a top of South Eco-Hub to combine waste from aquaculture and other sectors and create a critical mass of added-value materials. Simon Thomas, manager of Omega Innovations (a division of NZ King Salmon) said the Omega Plus brand of premium pet food from salmon by-products showed there was no longer any ‘waste streams’, just ‘remaining raw materials’ which an Eco-Hub would support.
With seaweed often discarded during mussel processing, Helen Mussely from Plant & Food Research pointed to a huge range of potential uses for seaweed from food, to health and beauty products and bio-materials. Seaweed sandwich slices were among the ideas generated and there was also a call for a fast track process to get through compliance hurdles associated with growing seaweed alongside other species.
Cawthron’s Dr Chris Cornelisen outlined the Precision Aquaculture project to develop and install sensors which could see every marine farm in the Sounds able to collect real-time data on crops, structures and the environment. Marlborough District Council’s CIO Stacey Young said Council wants to acquire and manage this data for Council, science and industry use and would look for stakeholder collaboration once any Government funding for the project was confirmed.
Thinking outside the square was the theme adopted by Maegen Blom from Mills Bay Mussels, which is leading the ‘raw shuck revolution.’ Maegen outlined how frozen half shell mussels were the export backbone but her company’s freshly shucked mussels were creating a lot of demand locally.
She outlined how the industry saw pea crabs in mussels as a problem, yet separate Japanese and Indian visitors to Mills Bay Mussels saw them as a bonus, even making salad dishes from them.
Meagen’s key message was that a strong relationship with customers helps to uncover unexpected value-add opportunities.
Smart + Connected Aquaculture Value+ Innovation working group chair Zane Charman says this summed up the theme of the forum.
“We wanted scientists, marine farmers and innovators to talk up the opportunities of adding value and minimising waste. We had an abundance of great ideas and our working group will now work through what we can pick up and help develop.”
Smart+Connected Aquaculture steering group chair Brendon Burns says the initial forum on blue mussels proved how good ideas can be developed and supported through to creating a business and jobs, while reducing waste.
“We hope to see further such success from this year’s forum – and Council and the Marine Farming Association share any credit through their support of Smart+Connected Aquaculture.”