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Pictured: Shaun Krijnen

High quality protein for little input and no pesticides.

Shellfish farm Menai Oysters sits between the island of Anglesey and mainland North Wales. Established by marine biologist Shaun Krijnen in 1994, the farm produces Pacific oysters and native mussels from the Menai Strait. 

With food production increasingly under pressure, sustainable shellfish could provide an affordable solution. A keystone species, shellfish actively improve their environment by pumping nitrogen and phosphorus into the eco system. 

“Everyone’s talking about saving the planet and becoming vegan,” says Krijnen, “But shellfish get ignored. They produce high quality protein for little input and the environmental benefit of cultivating them is similar to that of legumes because they fix CO2.  Shellfish are as good as the best vegetables and are grown without pesticides.”

Dredging for mussels is done with care, “The dredger doesn’t actually touch the sea bed,” explains Krijnen, “Only the sediment generated by the mussels gets disturbed.” 

A net of mussels costs £2.20 wholesale and yields around 300g meat.  “Compare that to the cost of a 10oz steak,” says Krijnen, “Shellfish are real value for money.”

Krijnen’s customers are mainly London based.  “I learnt about shellfish for my MSc and knew it was a niche market. The opportunity was on my doorstep,” says Krijnen who graduated locally from Bangor University.

Provenance is paramount, “Customers describe my shellfish as unlike anything they’ve ever tasted,” says Krijnen, “The tide washes the reef beds with mineral-rich estuary water which gives a unique flavour.”

Good things take time

 “Rope grown mussels harvest at 18 months,” says Krijnen “Our reef bed crops take three years but the quality is outstanding.” Sunlight and frequent tides encourage strong shells that stay shut for longer once picked.  “Anything that’s had a hard life will taste better,” says Krijnen, “Our mussels have more flavour and longevity than anything grown on a rope.”

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Starfish and storms

Nature brings challenges.  “20,000 tonnes of mussels were washed away recently by a storm on Morecambe Bay,” says Krijnen.  Star fish are predators, “They park themselves on reef beds and stay there until everything is completely eaten,” says Krijnen, shaking his head. Seabirds pose a similar threat and on average, Krijnen retains just 10 percent of his crop each year.

Public appetite could be sharper, “It’s all about education and inspiring people,” says Krijnen, “When Keith Floyd cooked mussels on TV, a friend of mine sold an extra 12 tonne of mussels that week.” 

Funding for start-up was sparse, “The banks doubted such a novel way of farming,” says Krijnen who launched with family help.  To save money, Krijnen made the majority of his equipment, “During the early years,” he laughs, “I was more engineer than farmer.”

The business has steadily grown and now employs six staff, “In the beginning, it was just me and three hessian sacks which I’d walk down to the beach with to fill with oysters,” says Krijnen, “Now, everything is mechanised and our 30kg delivery boxes have become 350kg delivery boxes.”

Advice for others

“Keep your model simple,” says Krijnen, “Do one thing right and make all your mistakes on the one line - it’s cheaper that way.”

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