SPATnz breeding better mussels for New Zealand

Media contact: Brad Young

Shellfish Production and Technology New Zealand Ltd (SPATnz) has taken the biggest step yet toward harnessing the full potential of the Greenshell™ mussel, using traditional selective breeding to help ensure every mussel is the cream of the crop. 

A team of scientists  from SPATnz and the Cawthron Institute have been nurturing 80 ‘families’ of hatchery-produced baby mussels (spat) as part of a $26 million Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) programme between SPATnz, Sanford Limited and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). 

Following a successful breeding run last month, the mussels are currently about the size of coarse sand grains, and have recently been transferred to a marine farm. 

SPATnz Programme Manager Dr Rodney Roberts said the breeding run was the latest and greatest in the quest to domesticate what is one of country’s most valuable seafood products. 

“New Zealand Greenshell™ mussels are naturally a superb product because of their sustainability, nutritional benefits and culinary qualities,” says Dr Roberts. 

“Currently the mussel farming industry relies on spat collected from the wild which means variability in the supply and performance of the animals. 

“Farming the species generates over $250 million in domestic and export earnings per year.  Our aim is to enable the mussel industry to improve returns by using selective breeding to enhance desirable traits such as a faster growth rates, increased resilience and vibrant colour.” 

The breeding programme is conducted jointly with the Cawthron Institute which has a long history of research in this field. 

“Our collaborators at the Cawthron Institute provide the genetic expertise to the programme,

including the use of computer modelling to helpselect the ideal mussels to use for breeding.  The model takes into account the performance of the mussels we have available for breeding but also their parents or grandparents.  

SPATnz is also constructing a new pilot hatchery at the Cawthron Aquaculture Park near Nelson, due for completion around the end of this year, with the first spat scheduled to be produced from 2015.

 “Mussel farming consistently ranks as one of New Zealand’s most valuable seafood species,” says Justine Gilliland, Director PGP for MPI. 

 “This programme aims to build on New Zealand’s success with Greenshell™ mussels, and deliver innovation that will improve mussel crops for decades to come. It is also a great example of the diversity of the industries involved in the PGP.” 

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