Here come the Belgian mussels!
Is there a more Belgian dish than mussels? Yes, there is: Belgian mussels! And it’s no utopia, because Colruyt Group is participating in projects to cultivate mussels in our North Sea. At a later stage, oysters and seaweed will also be grown. An earlier research project resulted in our first mussels from the Westdiep zone (Nieuwpoort) in 2019. Those were extensively tasted and ... approved! A first - limited - commercial mussel harvest is expected in 2022. A year later, we should be able to celebrate the first full Belgian mussel season. Why and how are we going to do that? You can read about that here.
Why cultivate our own shellfish and seaweed?
Shellfish and seaweed (products) will be on the menu more often in the coming years. They contain little fat and have a favourable protein composition, making them excellent alternatives for meat. By growing them ourselves, we want to be able to respond better to the rising demand, while at the same time making progress in quality, freshness and sustainability.
The combined cultivation of three native species (mussels, oysters and seaweed) at high sea would be unique in the world. Stefan Goethaert: “After previous test projects, we know that this will not be easy given the rough conditions and the currents in the Belgian North Sea. That's why we're doing it step by step.”
Obtaining the operating and environmental permit for the Westdiep zone, a project zone in the Belgian North Sea five kilometres off the coast of Nieuwpoort and Koksijde, was a first important step.
With the permits taken care of, the group is now looking for partners for the installation and maintenance of mussel lines, the cultivation and harvesting of Belgian mussels, and their processing and packaging.
After thorough preparation, we intend to start sowing around fifty mussel lines in the second half of 2021. Initially, we will use a quarter of the project zone. In the long run, this will account for some 250 tonnes of mussels.
A lot of research and innovation has gone into this, but we are now very close to launching the very first sea farm in the North Sea.Stefan Goethaert, quality and production manager at Colruyt Group.
Sustainable and local partnerships
For the different steps in this project, we will call upon a lot of experts. “Preferably local, Belgian partners,” adds Stefan Goethaert. “In this way we can contribute to local employment and innovation in the Belgian aquaculture and food sector. We are delighted to have Belgian hydraulic engineer DEME on board."
In balance with nature
Our group attaches particular importance to the environment. Therefore, we will combine this project with nature management initiatives in the North Sea. We strongly believe that cultivating shellfish and seaweed will positively impact both the water quality and biodiversity in and around the farm's infrastructure. The impact on the environment will obviously be adequately monitored in the coming years. We will report on this to an evaluation committee comprised of various actors, such as public authorities and the MUMM scientific department responsible for managing the marine environment in our North Sea.
Continued investment in research
The sea farm project is in line with the ambitions of the European Green Deal and the vision of the Flemish Government. In addition, we continue to focus on aquaculture research and innovation by taking an active role in research projects such as:
- SYMAPA research into the combination of aquaculture and passive fishing.
- UNITED the reintroduction of oyster banks and oyster farming in offshore wind farms.
- Blue Marine hatchery initiatives for seaweed, oysters and shrimps.
We expect that the sea farm will provide a lot of insights and therefore add value to current and future research projects, in which we will of course continue to participate.Stefan Goethaert
We have long believed in the economic and social added value of aquaculture. In recent years, we have actively participated in research projects such as Value@Sea and Edulis. In the summer of 2019, customers could even taste our first experimental mussel harvest from the Westdiep zone. “We are convinced that we can channel the knowledge we have gained and the partnerships we have built into successfully cultivating Belgian mussels on a commercial scale,” concludes Stefan Goethaert.
With this initiative, we contribute to the following Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.