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Seafood Shetland has announced the introduction of an easy-to-interpret bulletin on the status of harmful and toxic algae in the Shetland Islands area, which will assist shellfish farmers in making informed decisions on harvesting, particularly in relation to shellfish toxicity.

This bulletin builds on the existing statutory monitoring programmes, which have been in place for many years and conform to accepted examination protocols conducted across the European Union.

Ruth Henderson, chief executive of Seafood Shetland explained: “Aside from the statutory monitoring programme, we know that there are many factors which can have a bearing on toxin activity, including sea surface temperature, meteorological information (wind direction and duration) and satellite derived sea surface chlorophyll.

“It is important that our shellfish farmers have access to this information in the most convenient manner, so we have enlisted the services of skilled personnel with renowned reputations and expertise in many facets of biotoxin activity to produce a map-based bulletin.

“By gathering all this important data together in one location, we can create a bulletin that provides weekly expert interpretation and sound reasoning as to whether or not mussel stock should be harvested – all in a simple format which can be understood quickly and easily.

“Last year was particularly challenging for mussel farmers with sites closed for an extended period over the summer months due to high levels of toxins in the water. These circumstances were unprecedented, and the industry is now back to full production and looking forward to a successful year, safe in the knowledge that additional testing measures, now in place, will give early alerts to any potential toxin risks.”

The project has been funded through the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) Axis 4 programme with industry support, and the bulletins are compiled by the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban.

Professor Keith Davidson, Head of Microbial and Molecular Biology Department at SAMS said: “For a number of year SAMS have been conducting basis research on the relationship between harmful algal blooms in Scottish waters and their environmental drivers. It is very pleasing for us that this research is now being used operationally to support the Shetland shellfish industry.”

Shetland plays a significant role in the Scottish mussel industry, accounting for 64 per cent of the Scottish total, and supporting 112 jobs in Shetland’s rural communities.

Download PDF of latest bulletin.