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Business / Multi-million pound bid to evolve mussel farming made under islands growth deal

Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News
A mussel farm in Shetland. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

AN AMBITIOUS ten-year research and development programme to help the mussel farming industry in Shetland and throughout the Highlands and Islands expand has been submitted to the UK Government for approval.

The £4.4 million ShellVolution project is one of four initiatives that have reached the outline business stage in a process to unlock funds committed under the islands growth deal.

In summer 2020 the governments in London and Edinburgh committed £50 million each in support of growth projects in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.

Under the deal around £33 million of public money will come to Shetland over a 10 year period to be invested in:

  • the Shetland Clean Energy Hub;
  • the Dales Voe ultra deep water port;
  • the mussel farming research project ShellVolution;
  • the Shetland Space innovation campus;
  • the Shetland Campus redevelopment;
  • the Knab redevelopment.

ShellVolution is the first locally based project to move forward and is aimed at helping improve the industrial’s efficiency.

One of the brains behind it is mussel farming entrepreneur and chairman of the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group Michael Tait.

Michael Tait.
Michael Tait.

He said the project, developed in conjunction with the University of the Highlands and Islands, was not to provide financial support individual mussel farming companies but to find answers to technical questions that would help the sector to reach “the next stage”.

He said ShellVolution could better be described as a “series of smaller projects” that were all seeking answers to questions such as how to getter better and reliable spat, the optimum siting of mussel farms, how to increase efficiency and many more.

Getting the project up and running would be “super helpful”, he said, as it would benefit a sector that ticks all the right boxes: it is low carbon, removes nutrients from the sea and is seen as a good option of growing protein for human consumption.

Shetland currently produces around 75 per cent of all mussels in Scotland.

The other three projects submitted to governments for approval are:

  • the £5.9m TalEntEd Islands programme to create opportunities for sustainable ‘green’ jobs across all three island groups;
  • the £6.5m Scapa Flow Future Fuels Hub, which will enable the supply and distribution of low and net zero fuels to be established in Orkney;
  • and the second phase of the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus (ORIC2) at Stromness, which could be worth up to £8m.
Council leader Steven Coutts signing the islands growth deal. Photo: SIC

Outgoing council leader Steven Coutts said the islands growth deal would bring lasting benefits to islands communities.

“Project leads from the council and our partners are working hard to develop their outline business cases – the next stage in the journey which sees us move towards achieving full deal as quickly as we can,” he said.

“Shetland’s portfolio of innovative projects will create highly skilled jobs and training opportunities right across our islands, delivering lasting benefit for our communities. This investment will be timely as we recover from the pandemic over the coming years.”

The islands growth deal consists of a total of 18 proposals. It is anticipated that the £100m earmarked for the projects could attract a further £235m in investment from partners and private industry, potentially creating as many as 1,300 jobs across all three island communities.