Shellfish Hatchery – Stepping Stone Project


The Scottish Shellfish Hatchery Stepping Stone Project was an exciting demonstration project that explored hatchery production of the common mussel, Mytilus edulis at pilot-scale in a Scottish context between 2015 and 2018.  It was led by researchers at NAFC Marine Centre UHI, Shetland.


The main funders were Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), EMFF, and The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC).

Other key partners in the hatchery project include the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG), the University of the Highlands and Islands and the Scottish Government.

Shellfish production is a growing industry in Scotland, supporting over 500 jobs across the supply chain, many in rural areas.  Shetland accounts for around three quarters of Scottish mussel cultivation

If the industry can address issues such as the availability of mussel spat (juvenile mussels) there is capacity and demand to raise production substantially and sustinably.  The establishment of spat production through a commercial hatchery was considered a potential route to resolve this issue (and potentially other juvenile shellfish species).

Project details and partners

The main focus of the was to establish a core pilot-scale hatchery at the NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway, Shetland, and testing the commercial feasibility of spat production.

More details on the project including researcher profiles, reports and all publications and activities can be viewed on the UHI Research Database. This information is available for free and will be curated in perpetuity, as with all other items contained within the university digital repository.

The project was split into five work packages and consists of two phases (Phase 1 “Setup and Enabling” and Phase 2 “Research and Development”).

WP1. Algae Cultivation
WP2. Spawning of Mussel Broodstock and Larval Rearing
WP3. Settlement and metamorphosis of mussel larvae, ongrowing of spat and transfer to farm sea sites
WP4. Monitoring spat (seed) performance post-transfer to trial site
WP5. Project Management and Reporting/Dissemination

Overall, the project covered two production seasons.

Also involved in the associated programmes of research & development are a number of members of the MASTS (Marine Alliance for Science and Technology) academic community.  In addition to the NAFC Marine Centre UHI, this includes researchers at the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS; also a member of the University of the Highlands and Islands) and Marine Science Scotland, as well as a Scottish research-focused SME, Xelect.

Funding support for the combination of stepping stone and the research projects, totalling £1.9 million, includes contributions from SSMG, the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, Xelect and the academic partners, as well as significant investment from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Scottish Government. The project followed on from a study tour to New Zealand and Tasmania in 2015 by SSMG, NAFC Marine Centre UHI and the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre.  Visits included the Cawthron Institute, SPATNZ hatchery and Spring Bay Seafoods’ commercial hatchery, whose experiences will inform the planning and establishment of the Scottish hatchery. 

MIchael Tait, Chairman of SSMG, said: “Having a more reliable source of spat will help shellfish producers in Scotland meet the industry’s shellfish production targets.  In addition, the new technologies and processes permitted by the SAIC-sponsored research could allow our members to generate increased and more reliable yields, and help them target new export markets.”

University of the Highlands and Islands Deputy Principal, Dr Crichton Lang, said: "The applied research made possible by this hatchery project will look at aspects the industry considers important to commercial success. As such, the research could make a demonstrable impact on coastal communities and the shellfish industry in Scotland, and we are delighted to be part of this collaboration."

 NAFC partner logos

State Aid Compliance

The following State Aid regulations will be met:

  • ref GBER 651/2014, Article 30 – Aid for Research and Development in the Fisheries and Aquaculture sector.

The aided project shall be of interest to all undertakings in the particular sector or sub-sector concerned and involves the Scottish Shellfish Management Group. Our State Aid exemption notification was submitted within 20 working days of the commencement of the project and is publicised here. Since the NAFC Marine Centre UHI is a Charitable Trust which delivers not-for-profit training, education and R&D and since all the project outputs will be made publicly available, this funding will not affect our project partnership’s competitive or financial position in relation to other organisations providing similar goods or services.