$26m deal eyes mussel sales boost

Greenshell mussels will be selectively bred for the first time in a $26 million deal involving Nelson's Cawthron Institute, a move described as the most significant investment in the industry since the 1970s.

The Ministry for Primary Industries and SPATnz signed a seven-year contract to selectively breed mussel spat at the institute's Aquaculture Park at the Glen.

The deal was announced yesterday during a visit to Cawthron's Halifax St laboratories by Prime Minister John Key.

With Cawthron and commercial partners Sanford Ltd, the project will see $13 million each of public and industry funding used for selective breeding of mussels according to commercial specifications.

The move means spat could be bred for desirable specifications such as size or quality, similar to what already occurs in other industries such as dairy, meat, wool and fruit.

A hatchery building, nursery building and three 1500-square metre ponds will be built at the Glenhaven site.

The move will also create 15 jobs at the site.

The first significant quantities of commercially bred mussels were planned for 2015.

Cawthron chief executive Charles Eason said the investment would produce the spat for 30,000 tonnes of mussels, taking advantage of Cawthron's expertise in breeding programmes.

Having the industry partners positioned next to the scientists was an advantage.

"It's the sort of synergy and innovation that's a prerequisite for success." Nelson MP Nick Smith said he felt Cawthron was entering into one of the most exciting chapters in its history, and the contract represented the biggest investment in the industry since the first marine farms were established in the 1970s.

"It will grow exports, it enhances New Zealand's reputation for high quality food products, it puts smart science into practice, and the costs are shared between the taxpayer and the industry."

Mr Key said New Zealand was primarily a great food producer, and that science and innovation were crucial for the country.

The Government had put proportionally a lot more money into research and development.

"If New Zealand continues to sell milk powder and logs to the rest of the world then we're not going to get wealthy."

Sanford managing director Eric Barratt said being able to take control of the breeding process meant the company could create innovative products best suited to the needs and tastes of international customers.

"Sanford is very pleased to be at the leading edge of taking this research and making it into a commercial reality."

Mr Key also formally marked the beginning of construction of a new $5m laboratory building.

He was also sure that the Government was "moving in the right direction" for funding for facilities like Cawthron, and he was confident they would be happy with the results.

Prof Eason said the new facility would contain nearly 400 square metres of high specification lab space and enable scientists to take their research forward.

Following the formal ceremony, Mr Key visited one of the institute's laboratories to learn about the work scientists were doing with sea slugs and chemical testing.

Technical manager Paul McNabb said the level of expertise the team possessed meant they were able to assess the toxicity of samples around the world, and their success had also created a market for concentrated versions of the toxins, used for testing purposes.

He invited the prime minister to feed the slugs their lunch of mussels

Mr Key remarked that they were the first sea slugs he had ever fed, and that they had good taste, because he loved mussels.

The Nelson Mail