Queenscliff hatchery transcript

Commentary: Victoria has a long history of blue mussel aquaculture but production in recent years has declined dramatically, possibly because of climatic change.

Mussel farming is a sustainable form of aquaculture. It involves growing mussels naturally by suspending them on ropes where they filter plankton. No chemical or feed inputs are required at sea and the growing process reduces nutrient levels in our bays.

One of the main problems faced by Victorian mussel farmers currently is the lack of wild juvenile mussels, also known as spat.

Spat are normally collected on settlement ropes and grown to market size in aquaculture reserves within Port Phillip Bay and Western Port. Without sufficient wild spat, farmers have little to grow on their ropes which threatens their livelihoods and that of their local communities.

Because of the shortage of wild spat, an industry group, know as the Victorian Shellfish Hatchery and the Department of Primary Industries are collaborating to overcome this problem and ensure a future for the mussel farming sector.

They have built a state-of-the-art hatchery located on the shore of Port Phillip Bay at Queenscliff.

The primary aim is to produce healthy spat and optimise desirable mussel traits through a selective breeding program.

The project relies on world-class science provided by DPI's researchers, and industry expertise to run the hatchery and produce the spat.

The hatchery process starts with the selection of breeding stock, which are nurtured in special tanks in the hatchery to condition them for spawning.

Eggs from broodstock are fertilised in spawning tanks and are then moved to nursery tanks where the tiny mussels begin to develop.

Efforts to date have reliably produced around 30 million spat per production run.

The mussel spat are kept in indoor nursery tanks where they are fed a special diet of selected algae. During the nursery period, the health, hygiene and nutritional needs of the spat are closely monitored to ensure optimum growing conditions.

After a couple of weeks the spat reach a size where they can attach to settlement ropes, which are provided by mussel farmers and set up in the external settlement tanks.

From here the farmers transfer their seeded ropes to sea where the spat will be left to feed and grow naturally for between 12 and 18 months until they reach market size.

On average, around 80,000 spat can be settled on each rope, which exceeds the requirements for a commercially viable rope.

Mussel Farmer: This would have been in, what two to three months?

Scientist: Yes, two to three months?

Mussel Farmer: It's looking really good, that's the density we're after. We can do this every time the industry will be back to where it was in probably eighteen months to two years and we can see the expansion of the industry to where we want it to go in the future.

Through clever science and hard work, DPI and the Victorian Shellfish Hatchery are working together to help ensure a bright future for Victoria's mussel farmers.