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ShellAqua was recently awarded funding by BIM under the EMFF funded Knowledge Gateway Scheme. The project which will commence in May 2021, and will be led by the MOREFISH group, an aquaculture research unit based at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG). The outputs from ShellAqua will allow operators to estimate the level of ecosystem services they may provide and also contribute to a better understanding the benefits of shellfish aquaculture.

The project was developed from partnerships and engagement with industry through the Atlantic Area Interreg project, NEPTUNUS. One of the primary activities of the NEPTUNUS project is the benchmarking, for the first time, the environmental performance of aquaculture and seafood products (carbon, energy and water footprints using life cycle assessment (LCA)). LCA in Irish aquaculture has been used mainly in freshwater aquaculture and seaweed culture. During NEPTUNUS, producers expressed an interest in how they could learn more about the potential ecosystem services that this form of aquaculture can provide. The producers were particularly interested in estimating the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus sequestration potential associated with their activity.

The industry partners who supported the ShellAqua application were Wild Atlantic Oysters, Blackshell Farm and Kelly Oysters. The application was also supported by the community-based organisation Cuan Beo and IFA Aquaculture. The locations of these sites will allow for the development of datasets and profiling of mussel (Mytilus edulis) and oyster (Crassostrea gigas) aquaculture in Galway Bay, Clew Bay, Sligo Harbour and Drumcliff Bay.

The project has four goals, split over four work packages, each formed around producing tangible outputs for the industry and wider stakeholders. The first of these is to engage in knowledge transfer of methods, results and approaches. Industry partners will be actively engaged throughput the project through a series of workshops and training events. The workshops will help keep the project aligned with industry knowledge and the data gaps they have identified. The training events will provide tools and materials on how operators can keep track of their environmental performance with modules being developed on LCA, the circular economy and monitoring.

The second goal is to develop an ecosystem services based tool using operational and monitoring data for each of the sites. These datasets will be developed using laboratory scale experiments, remote and traditional monitoring. Tissue, shell and water analysis will be conducted at all the partner sites in order to develop site and region specific datasets. The combination of these datasets will allow for the estimation of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus sequestration rates of the study sites and species, facilitating the development of a tool to estimate the potential ecosystem services.

The third goal is to develop life cycle datasets on mussel and oyster production in order to develop a second tool that will allow operators and producers to continue monitoring their environmental performance after the project concludes. The tool will be LCA based, and will allow operators to develop carbon, water and energy footprints using their own data. The major production processes or stages for mussels and oysters will be captured within the tool, enabling operators to track any hotspots in their activity from cradle to farm-gate. Another aspect that will be investigated is the role that circular economy and waste valorisation strategies can play in the eco-efficiency of shellfish production (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Overview of the LCA, ecosystem services and valorisation approaches that will be used in ShellAqua.

The fourth goal of the project is to assess the economic benefits of the outputs from the preceding goals. The results of the previous work packages will be used to estimate the value of the ecosystems services provided by shellfish aquaculture at these sites. The marketing potential of the results and how they may be capitalised, either directly or indirectly, will be assessed and used to arrive at recommendations for valuation, exploitation, commercialisation, unique value proposition, monetisation and promotional opportunities of the results. The final part of this goal is to extrapolate the results nationally and estimate the benefits, impacts, opportunities and potential value to the sector.

The project expects to provide results of interest not only to industry but also to wider stakeholder groups. The expected outcomes from ShellAqua will include farm level tools to estimate carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous removal (i.e. ecosystem services), a sustainability tool, valorisation strategies for shellfish waste streams and knowledge transfer. Through developing this network with a focus on strong industry engagement, it is expected that research outputs from future projects can proactively support industry identified needs.