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Development of best practice and new technology for grading, handling, transportation, conditioning and storage of mussels for SMEs in the European mussel industry

Final Report Summary - MUSSELSALIVE (Development of best practice and new technology for grading, handling, transportation, conditioning and storage of mussels for SMEs in the European mussel industry)

Executive Summary:
The MusselsAlive consortium consisted of partners from UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, France and Portugal. SME associations from Scotland, Ireland and Norway were the main beneficiaries and owners of project results. The project lasted three years from June 2010 to May 2013 and was divided into several work packages (WP) covering scientific understanding, R&D work on industrial steps of the value chain from harvest to market (grading, holding and transport), demonstration, training and consortium management. Harvesting, grading, transporting and preparing mussels for market can be a stressful and sometimes lengthy process. The MusselsAlive team identified the main challenges of the supply chain and several opportunities to improve it.

The MusselsAlive project sought to increase the sustainability, profitability and the competiveness of the European blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) industry. A high potential for improving the economy of mussel farming exists as 20% waste of product has been detected from rope mussel production to processing. The MusselsAlive project modified and improved existing mussel grading technology, developed a new collapsible storage and transportation unit for live mussels, developed a recirculation holding and conditioning system, and provided actors of the European mussel farming sector with best practices for optimal handling.

The idea of the MusselsAlive project was to increase the production of live rope grown mussels by providing the sector with efficient technical solutions, knowledge and best practice protocols for optimizing production through the value chain from harvest to market. Through improved technology and optimal handling practices, waste and breakage could be minimised and the vitality and quality of live mussels maintained.

MusselsAlive aimed to reduce stress and achieve higher survival and better quality during storage and transport. The project provided enhanced understanding of biological and physiological requirements and tolerance values of physical and chemical water parameters such as temperature, flow rate, oxygen and ammonia concentrations. The results showed the opportunity to reduce the water expenditure for depuration purposes and achieve flexible production with holding mussels in low cost recirculation systems.

In order to characterize the meat quality of rope grown mussels from Ireland Scotland and Norway provided to European consumers, seasonal assessments were performed by an experienced sensorial panel. The transport conditions and ensuing mortalities, broken shells, perceived freshness of raw and cooked meat and chemical composition were evaluated. The nutritional value of the mussels coming from the waters of the participating countries was proven high in protein content and low in fat. Mussels are a lean and safe seafood product, also representing a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and minerals like selenium, copper, zinc and iron. Regardless of origin or season, rope grown mussels were safe products for consumers.

In general, the MusselsAlive project resulted in improvements useful for mussel producers. Technologies and recommendations from the experiments have already been incorporated in the daily routines and the production practices of the SME partners. The participating SME associations will further disseminate the results to their members and encourage them to use the new developments. Increased yield and year round availability of rope mussels on the market is expected to contribute to local socio-economic stability, competitive advantage and improved economic status for the SME members of the participating sector associations.
Project Context and Objectives:
MusselsAlive focused the attention on the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis), an economically important aquaculture species in Europe. Mussel aquaculture is an important industry worldwide and the third most popular aquaculture mollusc species. Mussels can survive for extended periods out of water and are traded for human consumption as live animals. The increased production and the development of rapid ground and air transport have improved the supply of live product to markets worldwide. Despite this, live marketing is a complex issue. The project was initiated to support rope mussel farmers in Ireland, Scotland and Norway (Scandinavia) with their challenges of increasing the survival and reducing waste of mussels through the value chain, thus increasing their market competitiveness.

Rope culture is the most recent development in mussel farming. This technique allows highly mechanized cultures and yields 18–20 tonnes/ha/yr, Spain, Italy, France and Netherlands are the major producers of farmed mussels in Europe. The international trade of mussels is very much regionalized, as mussels produced in Europe are predominantly consumed within Europe, and the major internal trade occurs between neighbour countries. European production markets can be grouped into: A) Southern markets (e.g. Spain, Italy, Belgium, France) with high demand of fresh mussels, regionally segregated by product type and origin. B) Northern markets (e.g. Netherlands, Denmark, UK, Norway), with small domestic demand and the largest part of the production is directed to satisfy specialized demands from southern markets.

Some of the major constraints that European producers face today are: contamination of mussels (e.g. biotoxins and toxic metals) and consumption seasonality (often, due to contamination). Depuration and conditioning are potential solutions to manage the impact of some environmental contaminants. Also, marketing strategies must be created to improve the image of fresh mussels, assuring their quality and safety, and to promote consumption all year round. To this effect, aquaculture provides a significant contribution to mussels’ total production, mostly due to the recent increase of Mediterranean production of farmed mussels. Exporters seeking to introduce their products into European markets must ensure that EU guidelines are met, as legislation for bivalve trading is strict.

The idea of the MusselsAlive project is to increase the production of live rope grown mussels by providing the sector with efficient technical solutions, knowledge and best practice protocols for optimizing production through the value chain from harvest to market. Through improved technology and optimal handling practices, waste and breakage it was foreseen that losses could be minimised and the vitality and quality of live mussels maintained. Harvesting, grading, transporting and preparing mussels for market can be a stressful and sometimes lengthy process. Product quality changes with season. Keeping a continuous cold chain during transport and storage is thus critical to keep the products appearing fresh from harvest to market. The MusselsAlive team identified the main challenges of the supply chain and several strategies to improve it.

Following harvest, cultured mussels are washed, declumped, debyssed and size graded. If bacteria loads in the harvesting area are above the legislated level, which varies in different countries, mussels must also be depurated or re-layed before going to market. Depuration is a re-watering process in clean water that promotes the purging of some bacteria from the mussels. Mussels are held in an approved system for 12 to 42 h depending on local regulations and then are once again declumped, debyssed and then packed and transported. Transport can take between 24 and 48 or more hours and in some cases mussels are once again re-watered after transport. During these processes mussels can experience fluctuating temperatures, sunlight and other bright lights, wind or drafts, handling and physical damage, poor water quality during holding, conditioning and depuration. As a result, mussels might suffer byssus damage, liquor loss, decline in condition, quality and low survival during transport and storage. As a result a large percentage of the mussels sent from rural mussel producers to centralised plants are being rejected and deemed unsuitable for processing (>20%). This represents an estimated 170 million euros loss of potential income for the live industry, but also an unnecessary waste of a natural resource.

Mussels will be exposed to some level of stress during all or part of the trade chain. Stress can be defined as any factor (either external or internal) causing a physiological disturbance to the mussels. In the live mussel industry these factors include harvesting, de-clumping, fluctuating temperatures, handling and physical damage, poor water quality during holding and conditioning. Mussels are generally able to recover from such stresses, however if any or a combination of those stresses are sufficiently intense, then poor quality (broken shells, gaping, unpleasant smell) or dead mussels will result.

The MusselsAlive project has sought to increase the sustainability, profitability and the competiveness of the European mussel industry. A high potential for improving the economy of mussel production exists as more than 20% waste of product has been detected between producer and processor. The project aimed to improve the practices and knowledge regarding optimal handling of live mussels through the value chain from harvest to market. The project had several goals related to the different work packages (WP1 Scientific understanding, WP2 Grading process, WP3 Holding & conditioning, WP4 Transportation, WP5 Integration of the technology & industrial validation, WP6 Demonstration, WP7 Innovation related activities, WP8 Training and WP9 Consortium management) which included scientific, technological and dissemination objectives. The project focused on best practice handling and storage, and the participating sector associations will continue to disseminate the results to their SME members and encourage them to use the new technology.

The project had several goals and objectives.
Scientific objectives:
•Gather knowledge about market requirements for live mussels to ensure optimal quality and value of the commodity.
•Identify and gather knowledge of critical factors affecting vitality and quality of live mussels in different handling, transportation and storage regimes.
•Verify and quantify critical water quality parameters affecting quality and vitality of live mussels during holding and conditioning.
•Identify the requirements of the technology and systems to be developed in the project.
•Identify and develop best practices for handling of live mussels throughout the value chain.
Technological objectives:
•Modify existing grading technology and improve the grading processes to increase the mussel quality and reduce the amount of damaged and wasted commodity.
•Design, develop and validate a holding unit suitable for dry storage and transportation, and for wet holding and conditioning.
•Design, develop and validate a holding and conditioning system for live mussels which will provide optimal storage conditions in accordance with the mussels' biological and physiological requirements.
Dissemination objectives:
•Development of a strategy plan, procedures, material and tools for dissemination and implementation of project results, including training activities.
•Disseminate knowledge provided through the project on critical factors affecting mussel quality and vitality throughout the value chain.
•Introduce and implement technological solutions provided through the project.
•Carry out training of key experts and personnel involved in end-user testing and industrial validation.
•Disseminate results to the members of the participating SME associations.

Through the implementation of the suggested new technology, and dissemination of best practices throughout the European mussels industry, the MusselsAlive research for SME associations’ project aim to reduce the total waste of commodity through the value chain from harvest to the market by 35%. To make the new technology and knowledge available to a broad audience, the project will train SME staff in its application and operation; thereby enhance the dissemination of the R&D results. The application of best practice will help SMEs to optimise handling of live mussels and to improve the product’s quality and value at the end of the value chain. The European mussel industry will extensively benefit from this project by improving the profitability and the competitiveness relative to non-European suppliers. In addition, value added through R&D will be widely distributed among European coastal communities, hence maximising the socio-economic benefit from this project. The European mussel industry consisting of SMEs lacking the economical resources and the R&D expertise required for solving the technological challenges, will not be able to improve their products and release the benefits on their own without support. MusselsAlive will extensively support the European mussel sector regarding these issues.

Project Results:
The MusselsAlive project modified and improved existing mussel grading technology, developed a new collapsible storage and transportation unit for live mussels, developed a recirculation holding and conditioning system, and provided the European mussel farming sector with operational recommendations and best practices for optimal handling.

The primary aim of capturing, holding and transporting live mussels is to deliver them to markets in the best possible condition. Even though mussels can survive for extended periods out of water the live marketing is a complex issue. The MusselsAlive project aimed to keep mussels alive through the trade chain and counteract stress by improving good practices and introducing new technology.

A high potential for improving the economy of mussel farming was recognised as large proportions of harvested rope grown mussels are discarded during the different steps of the value chain. Commonly 20% or more of the product are rejected as waste, breakage or undersized between producer and processor.

The project was organised in nine work packages (WP); WP1 Scientific understanding, WP2 Grading process, WP3 Holding & conditioning, WP4 Transportation, WP5 Integration of the technology & industrial validation, WP6 Demonstration, WP7 Innovation related activities, WP8 Training and WP9 Consortium management. Specific results were provided as fact sheets, videos or task reports at project meetings and on the public and password protected project web site. The results from the different task works are provided to the consortium in several comprehensive deliverable reports. The main S&T results were obtained in WP1-6.

The description of RTD work and main results are as follows:

WP1 objectives; Acquire enhanced understanding of the live bivalve molluscs market requirements, with emphasis on food quality and safety. Create a detailed overview of issues related to the live bivalve molluscs value chain, from harvest to market; indentify operations that are critical to survival and quality.
The scientific objectives were achieved and included the completion of three deliverables to create a scientific basis for further work in WP2-WP4. The main results from each deliverable are listed below.
During harvesting and transportation mussels undergo several procedures that might influence product quality and shelf life. Potential stressors to affect mussels include the following: temperature, exposure to air, duration of transportation and mechanical shock. To get an overview of the different steps in the blue mussel harvesting, transporting and processing value chains attempts were made to acquiring information on survival and level of stressors during appropriate stages of the supply chain under current standard operating procedures at representative SME locations.
The practical assessments were carried out via field sampling during 2010- 2011 included a combination of two aspects:
• Description of a typical supply chain represented by each of the partners.
• Monitoring for seasonal differences in condition of rope grown mussels.
Mussel samples were taken from different parts of each supply chain, including after harvesting; after de-byssing, after depuration/pre-conditioning (where relevant), during transportation, and during reconditioning (where relevant). Physiological status of the sampled mussels was assessed by biochemical analysis of blood serum (hemolymph) for ammonia and glucose.
A short summary highlights the following results:
• Ammonia levels are reduced after depuration compared to non- depuration. Re-conditioning after transportation as well reduces the ammonia levels which had increased during transportation.
• Depuration significantly prevented decrease in mussel weight due to water loss (only 5% weight loss compared to 12.8% weight loss for depuration versus non-depuration respectively).
• Regarding mortality, only tendencies could be observed which generally favoured transportation covered with lid compared to non-lid and slightly decreased mortality was observed in mussels undergoing depuration.
• Results from the analyses of biological and physiological parameters are included in the D1.1 report “Report on identifying technological barriers in the sector”. The report connected the biological issues to the requirements of the technology to be developed in work packages 2, 3 and 5, and identified operations that are critical to survival and quality (i.e. mussel origin, exposure to unfavourable environmental conditions, and impact of machinery through the value chain).
• Handling time and temperature during the different steps of the production was found to be the most critical factors.
There have been discussions about current practice for dry transport of blue mussels. Parameters affecting all supply chains have been identified: air temperature during transport (absolute; variations), evaporative water loss (covered vs. uncovered containers), physical loads, and transport time. These parameters were prioritised and worked further with in detail.

The D1.2 “Report from market study on consumer requirements” provides an overview of the European requirements for blue and Mediterranean mussels. The market study focused on four European geographical markets, i.e. Belgium (mussel high market price), France (mussel low market price), Poland (mussel new market) and Norway (mussel export market). Several aspects were covered in this study, such as: mussels' biology, importance of mussels in Europe and market requirements regarding live mussels, including consumers, retailers and HORECA. Results are summarized as follows:
• Mussel culture in Europe could be improved through the optimization of systems’ exploitation capacity and active participation in coastal zone management. Marketing strategies and, consequently, the communication with stakeholders would also improve the trade of mussels in Europe.
• Belgium and France have a long tradition in the consumption of mussels, mostly from Netherlands, Spain, UK, Denmark and Norway, though consumers from both countries display distinct and precise quality criteria (e.g. size, aspect).
• Poland has a low mussel consumption, and therefore the penetration of mussels in this market requires strong marketing strategies from exporters. Consumers are not informed about the freshness and quality requirements of mussels.
• Despite having one of the highest per capita seafood consumption in Europe, Portugal and Norway still present limited consumption of mussels. Usually, Norwegian consumers use general criteria to evaluate quality of mussels, whereas, Portuguese consumers rely mostly on smell as a sign of freshness and quality. It was concluded that mussel culture in Europe could be improved through the optimization of systems’ exploitation capacity and active participation in coastal zone management. Marketing strategies and, consequently, the communication with stakeholders would also improve the trade of mussels in Europe.
Baseline meat quality assessment was performed for mussels produced, harvested, stored and transported in traditional ways from Scotland, Ireland and Norway. The study was performed to cover the four seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter). The Mussels were transported to Portugal by plane and different transport conditions were detected among countries that considerably affected mussel quality and condition. Higher mortalities were detected in warmer seasons, like summer. Spring and autumn mussels had higher meat yield and lipid content. Mussels proximate chemical composition was similar between locations, but varied among seasons i.e. moisture: 79-85%; protein: 7-12%; fat: 0.4-3.0%; minerals: 1-2%; carbohydrates: 0.7-4.0%. The fatty acids profile revealed high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), particularly from the omega-3 group, such as EPA and DHA (>30%). Three reports were prepared; one for each country, which summarised the seasonal quality investigations. These reports were shared on the public project website.

WP2 objectives; Modification of existing grading technology and improvement of grading methods to improve the mussel quality and reduce the amount of damaged and wasted commodity from grading processes.
The grading process is understood as the production from harvesting until packing including removal of mussels from ropes (stripping), de-clumping, washing, debyssing and size grading. This is the part of the production where the mussels are exposed to heavy mechanical impact. The investigations carried out focused on optimising equipment and methods for declumping /size-grading, debyssing/washing/cleaning, and sorting of mussels. All technologies were evaluated on the basis of: efficiency (kg/min), survival rate of the mussels (%), percent of broken/damaged and gaping product. Results as presented in the report D2.1 “Protocol on best practice for grading mussels” showed that the greater the amount of rough handling that the mussels are subjected to during the grading process, particularly at longer times after capture, the shorter the storage life.
In order to provide specification for modification and improvement of grading technology baseline studies were carried out in cooperation with mussel producers to identify critical points of the value chain, and to establish sampling procedures transferrable to producers elsewhere. The results from the work related to the specifications for optimised grading technology are presented in D2.2 “Protocol for optimising the grading technology”. Based on results from the field studies on different grading steps, together with e-shell demonstrations it was found that a substantial increase in yield and quality could be expected by modifying size grader(s) and declumper(s) as well as by improving general handling procedures to reduce mechanical impact. Careful handling at harvest, use of modified grading barrel and correct settings of machinery such as declumper were shown to improve production efficiency during the different production steps. An improved grading barrel was constructed on the basis of the site-specific mussel morphology. It was compared with the original barrel with regards to grading precisions and the total improvements or reduction in waste and rejected mussels was from 8% to 80%. The declumper studies showed that use of water during declumping is beneficial for minimizing breakage/gaping levels which confirms the hypothesis ‘the more water the better’. The results indicated that brush rotation speed has little or no impact breakage levels. Since varying rotation speed does not seem to affect breakage/gaping levels, we recommend that rotation speed is adjusted according to the desired throughput (above a minimum kg/h), as long as it maintains good declumping performance. Lots of water should be used in the declumping process for all types of declumpers. The trials indicated that this will give the best mussel quality with regards to washing performance and minimized breakage. Trial results showed that using a high water flow could reduce the proportion of breakage around 6%. The negative impact of rough mechanical treatment on survival (i.e. shelf-life) was confirmed by storage trials.

WP3 objectives; Development of scalable water treatment technology to improve and optimize water quality for storage and conditioning of bivalve molluscs. The technology development will focus on scalability and the removal of organic particles from recirculated water.
Mussel holding/conditions are different in the various partner locations thus a combination of literature survey, telephone and/ or personal interviews was carried out to provide an overview of the current practice of the trade chains of mussels produced in Scotland, Ireland and Norway. The complete report is presented as D3.1 ‘Protocol on Best Practice for holding & conditioning bivalve molluscs’. This document presents an overview of the existing knowledge of the trade chains of rope grown mussels produced in Scotland, Ireland and Norway and provides a detailed description of best practice for handling, conditioning and storing of blue mussels. This protocol was tailored to participating SME AGs and SMEs. The methodology used to collect the information for this report was based on available literature, data collected from WP1 and also from personal interviews to the most relevant traders of mussels in Scotland, Ireland and Norway.
Knowledge gained from WP1 on the water quality tolerance of blue mussels were applied to design and build a scalable centralised marine water recirculation and purification system, incorporating mechanical and biological filtration and water disinfection/livestock depuration. Prior to building the prototype lab scale baseline experiments were carried out to quantify oxygen consumption and ammonia excretion rate of mussels at 5, 11 and 15°C. In addition oxygen demand and ammonia excretion were monitored after simulated transport (on ice) lasting 48h. Information was provided about amount, size distribution, consistency and stability of faecal material produced by mussels, needed in order to predict the required water flow rate per kg of mussels. These trials provided information about water demand, stocking densities, water quality requirements and system hygiene and were subsequently verified in a lab scale recirculation system.
Additional trials were carried to test various water flow rates under depuration conditions to investigate if oxygen levels in bulk bins remain above the required levels whilst using flows lower than 26L/kg/h. The results indicated that oxygen concentration during depuration can be kept above the minimum 50% saturation stipulated for depuration purposes in the UK at water flows as low as 10L/kg/h at 12.6⁰C.
Based on this collective information, the development of the RAS holding and purification system was finalized and a prototype recirculation system for 1 ton of mussels was assembled. A programmable logic controller (PLC)-based system was designed and incorporated into the recirculation system, which enabled online monitoring of equipment status and of essential water quality parameters, pressure and energy consumption. The purpose of the automation system was to follow up the parameters for the main equipment (water circulation pumps, heat pump and UV) in the RAS for holding live mussels. The logging of data was continuous and the system was under video surveillance. The complete report D 3.2 “Prototype of recirculation, water treatment and monitoring system” and an operator’s manual gives insight into the technical details.

WP4 objectives; Best practice related to physical parameters & handling regarding dry transportation of live mussels. Develop a mussel storage system that can be used both for dry transport/storage and wet storage. The system should be compatible with the water treatment & recirculation technology developed in WP3.
As holding and transportation infrastructures are different in the various partner location a combination of literature survey, telephone and /or personal interviews was planned in order to provide a description of the current practice which is summarized in D4.1 ‘Report on Best Practice handling and transportation of live mussels’ incorporating implications and recommendations for downstream combined storage and transport system. The aim is to frame the guideline/protocol in a simple and to the point fashion, making the knowledge and message easy accessible to everyone, especially the processors and transporters who are the ultimate target group for the guideline. The efficacy of the recommended best practices was tested on mussels transported from Wales to Portugal for meat quality evaluation and animal condition. By studying the available technology and practices used to transport live mussels, tests were performed on survival and mussel quality in order to determine what influence transportation has on the mussels. Tests were carried out for a period of thirteen days. Prior to this tests, mussel were conditioned in a recirculation system in Wales and subsequently transported /stored at 4ºC to Portugal. Different parameters were assessed: mussel condition, sensorial, chemical composition, macro and trace elements. After 15 days holding in the recirculation system 5% mortality was accounted, during transport 1.6% mortality was registered, and during dry storage two distinct phases were verified: 1) until day 7 of storage mortality gradually increased up to 5%, 2) from day 7 to 13 mortality increased to almost 40%. Considering specimen weight loss, the decrease was relatively constant until day 13 accounting for 30% loss at the end of the experiment. A consumer panel rejected the mussels only between days 11 and 13 of dry storage. Taking into account these results, dry storage of mussels at 4ºC should be no longer than 7 days to avoid significant economic losses. Based on findings from D4.1 a detailed requirement specification for the storage and transport system was established.
The development and specification for the new transport and holding system was presented as a two-part container that can be nested when empty. The combined storage and transport unit was successfully filled with mussels and plugged into the recirculation system for holding and conditioning. The novel combined transport and storage unit tolerated acceptable mussel load and was feasible to lift in and out of outer container and was easy to clean. No differences in product quality between mussels held in standard and prototype container were observed. The new innovative box could easily be divided without tools into two identical half containers. It was concluded that:
• One person can manage to disassemble and assemble the box again within 45 seconds.
• Two people will be able to assemble the box in less than 30 seconds.
• Two people are needed to place assembled box into container if done manually.
• One person is sufficient for lifting the box into container with a forklift.
• In a transport situation optimal return space savings could be up to 90%.
• Assemblage and disassembling worked well, but some modifications are needed for a commercial product.
The D4.2 “Prototype of transport/storage unit for live mussels, compatible with water treatment and control system” summarizes the technical details.

WP5 objectives: To introduce and integrate the developed technologies and best practice into the mussel sector and to increase survival and food quality, hence profitability and competitiveness, through technical improvement and optimized procedures. Also, to validate that the technology developed is capable of reaching a performance level capable of meeting the specifications and cost models of the industrial target sectors.
The work was approached from a value chain perspective. The recirculation system for providing best quality water to holding systems for live mussels was designed based on a set of considerations that were of importance to the scientific, technical and economic studies:
• Flexibility in terms of amount of water to be circulated
• High degree of water reuse and minimum need of new water
• Possibility for use anywhere, having a flat surface and access to new water
• Possibility to clean (particle filter and UV), cool, de-gas and re-oxygenate the water
• Possibility to control and monitor total flow of water through the system and water flow to individual mussel holding units
• Possibility to control pH and O2 levels in effluent water from the mussel holding units, and in clean water entering the units
• Possibility to control and monitor the temperature in the system
• Possibility to fit the use of standard or modified holding containers (tanks or bags)
The MusselsAlive recirculation prototype was installed at Musselpack facilities (Sweden) and stocked with ca 900 kg rope grown mussels divided into four containers. Water quality parameters and quality of mussels were monitored throughout a 33 day trial which started in January 2013 and finished in March 2013. Water samples were taken from the system at central points manually and via the PLC system so that relevant data could be monitored and compared. Water quality parameters in the system itself were kept stable during the duration with temperatures around 5-6°C, pH at 7.5 and oxygen saturation well above 90%, values agree when measured by both methods, manually and by automated system. In addition ammonia was analysed in the lab from samples taken from mussel mantle cavity water and the seawater. Results showed that levels in the water increased during the long term holding which was not unexpected considering that there was no biofilter.
Despite the high ammonia levels the MusselsAlive integrated technology was effective to keep bacterial levels in the system and mussels within the EC regulatory safety levels for consumers. Generally, mussel mortality rate was low (<1%) until 33 days holding and comparable to the current industry practices. Intervalvar liquid loss was slightly lower after 33 days holding (average 86.88 mL vs. 88.85 mL). Overall, mussel meat yield decreased significantly during holding from about 24% initially to 19% after 33 days holding without feeding. Nonetheless, the values were considered to represent good quality mussels at termination of the experiment according to mussel industry standards. Nutritional analyses showed decreases in fat and glycogen contents, as well as in the fatty acids quality indexes during the 33 days holding period in the standard box system, reflecting the use of energy reserves of unfed mussels. This fact influenced the sensorial evaluation of the mussels. A group of five experienced panellists performed the sensorial analyses on raw and steamed mussels from the different treatments to evaluate quality and time until rejection of the product. The shelf life of mussels held in the MusselsAlive recirculation system for 33 days was 10 days compared to 13 days for mussels packed according to standard industry procedures. Despite initial lower sensorial scores, the mussels kept the longest time in holding were of acceptable quality after 43 days post harvest.
Overall, long term holding of mussels in the MusselsAlive prototype recirculation system including holding in the prototype box developed in the project was successful and the mussels revealed an excellent quality performance also after being maintained in the RAS system for as long as 33 days. Main achievements were:
• The holding system performed overall according to expectations and the energy consumption was cost-efficient
• The water quality parameters could successfully be monitored online and settings of the different pumps, protein skimmer etc. administered online.
• The system was found useful for both long term holding and depuration purposes.
• The comparison of the MusselsAlive recirculation holding system with flow through/depuration system in terms of energy consumption demonstrated major economical benefits. The estimated energy consumption of the flow through system in a depuration situation needed approximately five times more energy per day (381 vs. 73 kWh) than used during the MusselsAlive holding trials.
• Based on the calculations the energy cost to maintain mussels in the MusselsAlive system was €0.018/kg/day.
• The integrated technology enables opportunities for buffer storage of mussels that can extend the post-harvest storage time and thus provide benefits to the mussel industry.
Several reports were achieved under this work package:
D5.1 “Report on the commercial viability of the technical applications and best practices, including future benefits and cost implications”
D5.2 “Integrated prototypes of developed technology” and
D5.3 “An evaluation report on the performance of the complete and integrated MusselsAlive technology” were completed during this period.

WP6 Demonstration of new practice and technology for SME-AGs and their members.
The SME-AGs involved in the project have decided that it was more fruitful to develop a virtual workshop, as it was impractical to gather SME–AGs and their members in a single location. A webcam was installed at the Musselpack site in order to enable the real-time monitoring and demonstration of the system to all SME-AGs and their members. The camera was installed so that the most important components could be monitored. The system could be monitored during the full trial period. Key persons could also control the different pumps online. During the trials, three videos were prepared for the demonstration and training activities that were included at the project website. The usefulness of the recirculation system within and beyond the project was demonstrated as well as successful demonstrations of functionality of the prototype transport and holding container.
A trial was designed to demonstrate that depuration systems can use a minimum flow lower than that established by UK authorities, without compromising mussel survival and ability to filter and depurate. Therefore, the MusselsAlive results contribute in making future holding systems more sustainable.
The demonstration of new practices and developed technologies for SME-AGs and their members obtained in the course of the MusselsAlive project included four stages:
a) the demonstrating improvements in grading with stakeholders
b) the demonstration of the functioning of the integrated MusselsAlive system to SME-AGs and their members
c) the demonstration that oxygen levels are kept well above 50% saturation even at water flows below 26L/h/kg or 6500 L/h/250 kg
d) the demonstration that mussels can open their valves and filter normally even when stacked above 1 m.
Further details concerning the demonstration activities are presented in the achieved deliverable report D6.1 “Results from the demonstration case study”.

Work package 7 – Innovation related activities
Dissemination and promotion took place at different arenas during the period. The full list of dissemination activities is implemented in the final plan for use and dissemination of the knowledge (see deliverable report D7.6). At the end of the project more than 40 activities had been registered. Some scientific and popular science publications were still under preparation at the end of the period. The website that was created during RP1 (see own report D7.1) was operated during the life-time of the project. The following web sites showing results from the MusselsAlive project are available for a wide audience, including the general public.
• Euronews Futuris TV documentary, 29 April 2013,
• Updated project WEB site with results,
Scientific publication “Metabolic rate of blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) under varying post harvest holding conditions”, Aquatic Living Resources,

Work package 8 – Training
Our approach was to utilize the training component of the programme to “train-the trainers” of the SME-AGs which provides maximum efficiency in generating a trans-national team of trainers from SME-AGs across Europe, to transfer the knowledge/benefits from the MusselsAlive systems and train their members in the operational principles of the devices as well as maintenance, servicing and calibration. To up-skill the sector through the use of innovative technology and the implementation of “best-practice” management techniques.
It was a common understanding that training material should be prepared in a simple and easy understandable way, and that the material should focus on the value chain, be factual and make a difference to survival (shelf life) of mussels. During the project period the different results from the RTD work packages were frequently transferred to the participants of the MusselsAlive project and the members of the SME associations. Specific issues with recommendations to the industry were targeted in fact sheets and demonstration videos which confirmed benefits for the SMEs. The knowledge was made available for immediate uptake by the SMEs and was later included as MusselsAlive training material. Training activities were carried out together with practical work at farm sites. Operational principles, maintenance, servicing etc. was included in the educational and course material that has been prepared by the RTDs. The RTDs supplied the SME-AGs with “The MusselsAlive training package” which was completed at the end of the project. The training package consisted of different types of material. Different issues – different approaches:
• Leaflet 6-section– information with broader approach than fact sheet
• Fact sheet 1-2 pages (1 sheet) – specific info about technological best practice/clear recommendation to operator - based on experiments and tests
• Manuals as requested by AGs –handbooks for operating system
• Training modules – topics where more background info is useful – also useful for training the trainer – relevant for post-harvest issues
The different information and training material was initially gathered on a blog site with the possibility to be made public by the request of the SME-AGs, and further compiled on special memory sticks with the project and FP7 logos for distribution by the SME associations. The material provides public information about the FP7 European Project MusselsAlive training material, and all transferable knowledge gathered throughout the project including fact sheets, leaflets, user manuals and videos were brought together. The deliverable report D8.1 “Report on training material and evaluation from the participants” was achieved within this work package.
Potential Impact:
Socio-economic impact and wider societal implications
Rope mussel cultivation in Ireland, Scotland and Norway (Scandinavia) was the target of the project, with special emphasis on keeping the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) alive and reducing waste along the value chain. MusselsAlive aimed to provide the European mussel sector with knowledge for optimising the vitality and quality of live blue mussels by improving the practices of handling technology, particularly for grading, transportation, conditioning and storage of live mussels. The farming of mussels takes place in coastal and rural areas of Europe and the industry is dominated by SMEs. The bivalve aquaculture industry has the opportunity to provide year round employment in areas where job prospects are often scarce.

Job opportunities contribute directly to improving people’s quality of life. An increased and a more predictable mussel production will create stable employment in coastal areas for both men and women. Work and economic security are key issues in ensuring the long-term wellbeing of people, communities and regions. SMEs are a major source of entrepreneurial skills and innovation. The secondary effects of new employment possibilities in production can be expected 2 to 4 times larger than the direct job effects. This effect relates especially to producers of cultivation equipment, improved handling and efficiency, packaging and an increase in the transport and service sectors. It will also demand more skilled labour and thereby increased demand for education and training.

The MusselsAlive project contributes by showing the potential of the rope mussel industry to the next generation. The project has supplied a training package that can be used towards recruits to the industry as well as to the well established players. Through demonstration and training activities, the participating associations have reported increasing interest by people in mussels as food and how it is farmed. The presentations of mussels for tasting intended for children and youths at different food fairs and educational activities confirm that blue mussels are a product for the future. A general increase in interest for aquaculture as such will also benefit the mussel grower sector.

The production of seafood in general and mussels in particular contribute as healthy food to the market. Future development of the mussel industry will certainly increase production and availability of fresh products sold at domestic and export markets. The effect on the market price is more uncertain as the mussel demand varies with season and country. Progress in production methods will consequently prepare for an evolving large and interesting business sector. The demand for seafood products is increasing. Stimulation of social and economic cohesion across regions is one of the European community’s main objectives, and an increase in activities in rural areas will stimulate economic development.

Contribution to a European sustainable seafood production
The MusselsAlive foreground has potential to contribute to an evolving and economically viable aquaculture industry. Several SMEs of the participating countries face a steep learning curve related to live trading and marketing of mussels. A large part of the mussels produced in Ireland, Scotland and Norway is now exported live to the continent. The practical research results obtained during MusselsAlive targeted several critical steps of the production, such as transportation, size grading, declumping, rough handling, and long term wet holding and depuration. Several recommendations to the industry emerged from the project, which are useful to both experienced and not so experienced farmers. The results will continue to be disseminated by the SME associations and used for future specific targeted training and meeting sessions with rope mussel producers in Europe.

Reduced breakage and increased survival of mussels will contribute to a sustainable industry by minimizing unnecessary waste of a natural resource. Small modifications on existing equipment were shown to result in increased amount of saleable mussels per weight or time unit of harvested mussels. In the MusselsAlive case studies reductions in discarded product in the range 8-83% was reported after making use of knowledge gathered from the work on establishing new methods and modification of equipment. In each step of the value chain there is a potential for improved output. Every economical viable solution to counteract the large amount of waste that occurs between producer and processor will secure the SMEs existence within the mussel industry.

The MusselsAlive developed a prototype recirculation system designed to be cost-effective, simple to operate and with minimised need for maintenance. A manual for operating the system was developed for future use. For commercial application the system can easily be scaled up and tailor made to the actual operation. The system is suitable for long term holding (several weeks) of blue mussels. Further potential is in the use for depuration purposes and live holding of other species. Recirculating aquaculture systems provide opportunities to reduce water usage and to improve waste management and nutrient recycling.

The issues of different depuration legislation within the EU and the relation to carbon foot print have been of concern during the project. The MusselsAlive provided new scientific knowledge related to water quality requirements of mussels commercially stored in recirculation systems. The SME associations foresee development and use of more economic depuration technology in the future. The studies on water flow requirements and mussel stress response can contribute towards the governing bodies, executive and food standard agencies in the mission to change the ruling regulations on biomass and water volume. Further research useful to the sector can build on the research carried out in MusselsAlive, and should include studies related to different sites, temperatures and seasons in order for the industry to predict the physiological demands of mussels under potential stressful conditions.

Rope mussel aquaculture does in general not represent a potential risk to the environment, since no addition of nutrients in the form of feed or prophylactic treatment takes place. It is a sustainable and environmental friendly industry since no antibiotics or other potentially harmful chemicals are used in the production. Mussel farmers therefore have the opportunity to producing organic mussels or according to different “green” labels or Marine Stewardships certification.

Exploitation of results and improved competitiveness of the rope mussel industry

The exploitable results planned and derived from the MusselsAlive project were:
1. Identification of biological, chemical, physical, operational and market aspects
2. Best practise and best available technology for grading of mussels
3. Prototype for holding and conditioning unit
4. Prototype of transportation unit
5. Functional testing and industrial validation of whole transport chain
The exploitable results were described and explained intermediary in bi-weekly reports and in more detail in deliverable reports. A use and exploitation plan was developed between the MusselsAlive beneficiaries regarding protection, ownership and licensing of the IPR. The consortium intended to adopt an open source strategy for the IPR relating to the application of the technology and recommended best practices.

The SME participants in the MusselsAlive project expect several benefits from the project in that advancement of knowledge will generate increased awareness of the integrated management along the value chain. The SMEs will through the MusselsAlive acquisitions increase their possibilities of entering new markets, and increase the profitability in their current markets. Through the acquired knowledge and access to new and improved technology it will be possible to both reduce amount of wasted product and ensure quality of remaining product, hence increasing their viability. It is foreseen to profit from sales of the innovative MusselsAlive transportation and long term holding and storage unit if it is taken further from the prototype stage. The developed automation and control system can contribute to improvement of market performance through an increase in product range and expansion into new markets with innovative technological solutions for the use in the shellfish industry.

The MusselsAlive project proved the possibility to market first class live mussels even after being held in a recirculation holding system for up to 33 days without additional feed before transport to packing facility. The results revealed opportunities that can benefit the industry significantly as harvesting and dispatch becomes more flexible, less constrained by weather, transport logistics or other environmental events. The producers may not need to harvest every day, or be constrained by the need to have a constant transport system ready and operating. Additionally, mussel industry can trade mussels harvested before the occurrence of harmful algal blooms leading to closure periods. The lack of mussels for retailers, wholesalers and consumers can be avoided by providing buffer storage of high quality live mussels for the market during closure periods. The new technology and best practices introduced into the mussel sector enable increased survival and food quality, thus, improving profitability and competitiveness.

The MusselsAlive provided technology and best practices that make it possible for individual rope mussel businesses to enhance their yield. Cooperation, communication, knowledge transfer, partnership and networking beyond the project could further provide opportunities for enhanced production at the national and European levels. Thus the European mussel producers would benefit by reducing the need for import of fresh and frozen products from overseas and increase the European market share. The live market for which rope grown mussels are ideal is expected to be maintained or even increase. The future production of rope grown mussels requires clean and healthy waters, proper monitoring of harmful algae and pollutions and constructive relationship with policy makers and decision takers.

The rising demand in Europe for mussel and other seafood products is today compensated by excessive import. Increased European production will create new jobs in rural areas not competing with established job markets. Increased stability and production level will contribute to increasing production cost-efficiency and improve competition. The MusselsAlive best practice methods of handling, storage and transporting will lead to increased mussel quality, production predictability and financial returns which will improve the competitiveness of SMEs in the sector.

Dissemination activities
Dissemination was a key element to the success of the MusselsAlive project and to ensure optimal use of the project results. Dissemination activities were planned from the very start of the project in order to raise public participation and awareness. The activities were coordinated with demonstration activities, and all partners played an active role in technology transfer and promoting the technology development to customers and through networks of industrial contacts. The participating SME associations will further explore several different dissemination routes to reach parties both in the fisheries and aquaculture sector through country specific plans for dissemination and training activities. Networking was an integrated part of the activity at conferences, field trips, trade shows, and also through cooperation with external experts and other industrial contacts. The meetings and personal contacts removed communication barriers and helped in bridging the gap between research and innovation.

The MusselsAlive project was presented at different industrial and scientific arenas during the project period. Results form the R&D work have been presented at the annual national shellfish conferences of the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers and the Irish Farmers Association Aquaculture Sector and food festivals in Scotland, Ireland and Norway. Information about the project was presented in Trondheim, Norway at the AquaNor 2011 from the TI stand, and product demonstration took place through SNS. A consumer’s questionnaire was used to survey the market and use of mussels at the food fair “Matfestivalen” in Bergen, Norway and “Matstreif” in Oslo, Norway in September 2011. SNS performed demonstration of mussel preparation at the Food festival Bergen 2012 and student teachings about seafood including mussel production. Hand-outs with general project information were made available for visitors at the different national meetings and from the EC stand at EAS/WAS 2012 exhibition in Prague, Czech Republic. The aquaculture sector was informed from a booth at Sats Marint (Norwegian marine aquaculture conference) in Bergen, Norway in February 2013.

Publicity took place via local, European or international trade magazines, web sites and other media and in scientific journals. Several articles and updates were published in issues of “The Grower” which is the newsletter for the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers and in the ISA newsletters which target the Irish Farmers Association Shellfish Aquaculture sector. Scientific results were presented via a poster at Physiomar 12 (international conference on marine mollusc physiology) in Santiago de Compostela, Spain in September 2012. One scientific publication was completed by Barrento, Lupatsch. Keay and Christophersen: Metabolic rate of blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) under varying post-harvest holding conditions, Aquatic Living Resources. The publication was available as E-first from May 2013 (doi:10.1051/alr/2013050). The project obtained several results acceptable for publishing in international scientific journals which are under preparation: 1) Effect of season on meat quality of rope grown mussels harvested in Ireland, Scotland and Norway, 2) Effect of season on macro, trace and toxic elements of Irish, Scottish and Norwegian rope grown mussels, 3) The trade of live bivalves in Europe: importance and consumers requirements, 4) Aspects of long-term holding of live mussels in seawater recirculation system. Information about the project was also available from the project website ( and the web sites of the participating SME asociations. The MusselsAlive project was also presented in a short TV documentary produced by Euronews Futuris at the Musselpack and Scanfjord facilities in Sweden April 2013. In addition to company staff, the coordinator and RTD representatives from TI participated. The film clip “Manage your mussels” was shown 22 times in 12 languages (

Relevant contact details:
Norsk Sjømatsenter (SNS)
Grethe Adoff