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An uncertain future for Devon’s mussel farming industry

  • by JW

“… issues about water quality in Lyme Bay.”

But “new partnership brings sustainable mussel dishes to market.”


Back in November 2010, an offshore mussel farm was granted a lease to develop in Lyme Bay:

“We are delighted that four years of research and planning have resulted in a successful lease application,” said OSL director John Holmyard. “We view it as an exciting and positive addition to the local and the wider UK seafood industry. By going offshore, the farm will be flushed with clean oceanic water rich in the plankton the mussels feed on naturally.”

Offshore mussel farm gets lease | Sidmouth Herald

This is sustainable fishing at its best, with a report out in 2018:

Far-out farming

Sustainability is also a key concern. Prior to installing any equipment, Plymouth Marine Institute carried out an independent, comprehensive baseline study into the benthic environment and water column. This work has been continuing each year, as the farm develops and more mussels are grown. Offshore Shellfish has now signed up to undergo Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) and organic certification to prove the farm’s sustainability credentials…His pioneering work suggests great potential, not just for the marine ecosystem but also for markets and the community. Hopes are high that it could signal the arrival of truly sustainable offshore aquaculture.

Far-out farming | The Fish Site

And in November last year, things were looking really good:

Pioneering offshore mussel farm – sustainable aquaculture in Devon

Devon’s pioneering offshore mussel farm uses the sea to meet the growing demand for more food. Farming mussels sustainably in Lyme Bay was the dream of John Holmyard and his family. Holmyard used his experience from mussel farms in Scotland and founded Offshore Shellfish, based in Brixham, Devon… 

Mussel farming offshore is entirely natural and sustainable. The mussel larvae settle on the ropes in the spring and grow without need of fertilisers, medicines or artificial food supplies, absorbing carbon from the sea. Research by the University of Plymouth shows that the ropes have created new habitats rather like a floating reef, increasing biodiversity and providing shelter and food for other species.

For Holmyard and his team, there has been the added excitement of developing their own ideas and innovations. Their aim to produce high quality seafood from the open sea has been confirmed by the awarding of Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP) and Soil Association Organic certifications.

Pioneering offshore mussel farm – sustainable aquaculture in Devon – Geography South West

However, despite these accolades, disaster has struck – in that the Brits just don’t eat mussels and the main market can’t accept them any longer, as reported this summer:

Lyme Bay mussels can’t go to EU

Europe’s not getting its mussels from some of the waters off the Devon coast because of issues about water quality in Lyme Bay. The sea has been classified at level B, not the top grade that would permit imports into the European Union. The shellfish need to be purified if they’re going to get into countries like France and Belgium, which consume much higher proportions of mussels than the average person in Britain.

That’s a major issue for mussel farmers, and especially John Holmyard, who has invested millions in the UK’s largest mussel farm south of Sidmouth. His family business is now on the brink of collapse. When the UK was a member of the EU and part of the single market, the water-quality issue didn’t arise.

This video report is from BBC Spotlight.

Lyme Bay mussels can’t go to EU – Radio Exe

In fact, even most fisher’s families in the UK prefer steak to sea food:

An uncertain future for Devon’s fishing industry

“I don’t eat them,” admits his brother Chris as they pick over a bucket of whelks, which are said to taste of rubber if you don’t cook them right. With lobsters fetching a tenner each on the quayside and up to £50-£60 by the time they reach London restaurants, Chris says he prefers a steak if he wants to treat the family.”

An uncertain future for Devon’s fishing industry – Vision Group for Sidmouth

However, John Holmyard’s business has found a Dutch partner which looks to secure the Lyme Bay business:

News: We’re excited to announce our new partnership with Krijn Verwijs Yerseke to bring new mussel dishes to market.

New partnership brings sustainable mussel dishes to market! |

Offshore Shellfish | Facebook