Loch Roag on the West Side of Lewis could be key to innovative University of Stirling research to improve blue mussel farming and increase productivity.
Along with Badcall Bay in Sutherland, Loch Roag’s mussel farming has been pinpointed as playing a crucial role in the life cycle of mussels. Both locations act as sinks, receiving larvae (infant mussels) from elsewhere in Scotland.
Sink stocks play an important role in maintaining genetic diversity within a population, providing benefits such as increased resilience to environmental stresses, improved adaptability to changing conditions, and promoting long-term survival.
According to the University of Stirling, blue mussel aquaculture is an important sustainable and eco-friendly way of producing a protein source, but the industry has been facing challenges resulting in production fluctuations.
Mussel farming has a low impact on the environment because they require no food, grow on ropes and, by nature of being bivalves, they even clean the water around them. They also sequester carbon from the atmosphere in their shells.
University scientists took samples from farms to carry out genetic analysis.
They discovered regular genetic mixing changes local populations. The findings could help mussel farmers with site selection, stocking strategies, and management practices. It could also lead to more consistent production and improved profitability for the mussel farming industry and contribute to the overall health an"d resilience of marine ecosystems in Scotland.
Dr Ana Corrochano-Fraile explained: This is the first time research like this has been done in Scottish waters. Understanding the connectivity among mussel populations and the roles of source and sink stocks is crucial for protecting mussel farming areas and ensuring that the mussel populations remain sustainable.
The research, she continued, is important for maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem as mussels are a crucial part of the food chain, and their decline can have cascading effects on other species: “By identifying source and sink stocks, managers can implement measures to protect and maintain these areas to ensure the sustainability of mussel populations and the ecosystem as a whole.”
The paper Estimating blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) connectivity and settlement capacity in mid-latitude fjord regions was published in Communications Biology.
Image credit: University of Stirling