Shellfish Hatchery – Stepping Stone Project


Shellfish Hatchery – Stepping Stone Project could lead to Scotland’s first commercial mussel hatchery and is led by researchers at NAFC Marine Centre UHI on Shetland.


Funding has recently been approved for a trial to test the commercial viability of a mussel hatchery in Scotland. The main funders are currently Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC). The 30-month project could lead to higher productivity in the shellfish industry and support rural businesses and jobs.

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. Mussel production in Scotland reached its highest-ever level in 2014, with Shetland accounting for almost 80% of production.

There is capacity and demand to raise production substantially, if the industry can address issues such as the availability of mussel spat (juvenile mussels). The establishment of a commercial hatchery to produce spat will help to resolve this issue, providing Scottish producers with a reliable supply of spat (and potentially other juvenile shellfish species).

Project details and partners

The main focus of the announced project, which is also supported by the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG) and the NAFC Marine Centre UHI, is 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 has been 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 will run for thirty months (until May 2018) and will cover two production seasons. It is expected that a final report be available in May 2018 and details of where to obtain free copies of the published reports will be posted on this webpage.

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 announcement of the project follows on from a study tour to New Zealand and Tasmania earlier this year 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 target of 13,000 tonnes by 2020. 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. This announcement is a milestone for the industry.”

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."

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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.