A West Highland shellfish farm is trialling a new cultivation technique for mussels that has been successfully pioneered in New Zealand.
Inverlussa Shellfish Company Ltd at Loch Spelve on Mull is conducting trials with the New Zealand 'continuous rope' system, which has the potential to make the complex harvesting operation more efficient.
At the moment most mussel cultivation in Scotland is achieved by growing the mussels on single ropes or fabric, suspended in the water by heavy horizontal ropes and flotation buoys. The new system involves continuous loops of special rope hanging down from the heavy horizontal ones, the total length of which can be up to 14 kilometres. This means that during harvesting, instead of pulling in many single individual ropes, the continuous loops can be drawn aboard the collection vessel and through the harvesting machine almost automatically.
In New Zealand this system has proved a fast and effective harvesting method, ensuring a consistent product with a minimal loss of shells.
Douglas Wilson of Inverlussa Shellfish, said: "It doesn't mean we will be able to grow more mussels, but in theory it should make the harvesting more efficient without the backbreaking part, also an added bonus is that the special rope is reusable year after year.
"The system works well in New Zealand and I believe some Irish mussel farmers have also had success with it. It would probably be too expensive for us to convert our whole farm to this method, but we are keen to trial it, and if successful, use it for part of our operation to begin with."
Inverlussa Shellfish, which is part of the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group, has received European Fisheries Funding (EFF) to help finance the project.
Meanwhile, despite the recession, Inverlussa is experiencing a robust level of demand for its mussels.
Douglas Wilson says: "The health benefits of eating mussels have received much publicity and people are much more adventurous in their tastes than they used to be - and this seems to be helping to fuel demand."