On September 18th 2018 Ghent University, the Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Research (ILVO), Belwind, Brevisco, C-Power, Colruyt Group, DEME Group and OD Natural Environment proudly presented their first Belgian mussels to the press and the larger public. The mussels were tasted and found to be delicious. The project partners can look back with pride on a successful collaboration in farming mussels for the first time in an integrated way in the Belgian section of the North Sea. The mussels were cultured in the offshore wind farms in the context of the research project 'Edulis: Offshore mussels culture in wind farms'. Edulis is part of the larger project 'North Sea Aquaculture'. The mussel tasting event was held in the presence of Patricia De Clercq, Permanent Secretary of Agriculture & Fisheries and Secretary of State for the North Sea, Philippe De Backer.
The Belgian mussels have a higher meat content (36% to 39%) compared to other common mussels. They emerged from the Colruyt Group’s taste-and-use tests as being particularly flavoursome. Dr. ir. Nancy Nevejan from Ghent University's Laboratory for Aquaculture & ARC adds: “In addition, what is noticeable is that these mussels grow particularly quickly. Over 12 months, they reached full size, while the Zeeland soil mussels need 18-20 months to reach maturity”. Very positive results have been noted from the number of mussels that attach themselves to the culture systems. Taking into account the knowledge acquired, the future in the North Sea looks promising for the partners. They could start up an integrated 'sea farm' and develop new economic activities. “All preparations have been made for being adopted, in terms of location, in the Marine Spatial Plan – in 2020 at the earliest. To achieve this and to have this area recognised as a classified shellfish production area, we are looking at the next stages”, Willy Versluys from Brevisco bvba confirms.
Philippe De Backer, Secretary Of State for the North Sea, adds: “Our national dish is mussels with fries. I’m very pleased to see that within some time, we will be able to serve true Belgian mussels. I believe that our North Sea has the ability to become an actual sea farm in the long term. It could be a farming base for not only mussels but also oysters and seaweed. As Secretary Of State, I want to focus on this further. This is why I have foreseen extra space within the Marine Spatial Plan to offer all opportunities to these innovative projects. We need to be a trendsetter in Europe in this matter as well.”
Today the mussels are still part of a research project. The ultimate aim is to market these Belgian mussels under Boni Selection, the Colruyt Group’s private label. Stefan Goethaert, Director of Colruyt Group Fine Food: “We believe there’s certainly a market for Belgian mussels. As soon as scaling-up is a reality, this product can be marketed. Though, considering we are now still in an innovation project with a proof-of-concept, this may take some time. A lot will also depend on the Marine Spatial Plan. Marketing, in other words, is certainly not for now, but the future already looks promising”.
'North Sea Aquaculture' is a research project, directed and carried out by two research institute and business consortia. Since 2016, the partners are looking into the possibilities of innovative farming methods for shellfish and seaweed, efficient use of space of the Belgian section of the North Sea and the development of a market for new regional marine products. “The efforts and investments of the 'North Sea Aquaculture' project partners, and the results that have been delivered, showcase the strong belief in the opportunity to realise a Flemish commercial marine aquaculture sector. The Flemish government can only encourage this enthusiasm, as the possible positive effects on the local economy will be visible upstream as well as downstream”, concludes Patricia De Clercq, Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture & Fisheries.
Below you find a selection of pictures from the mussel tasting event.