After two years of independent scientific analysis, the blue mussel fishers of the ‘Niedersächsische Muschelfischer GbR’ are entitled to mark their catch with the internationally recognised MSC ecolabel for sustainable fishing. Certification to the MSC standard verifies that there are sufficient mussels for the future, marine ecosystems remain intact and that management rules ensure sustainable use of the mussel resource.
The blue mussel fishery in the Wadden Sea of Lower Saxony has been carried out for generations. Recently, the fishers have diversified the way they operate, producing more mussels by complementing mussels fished from mussel beds with mussels that have settled on floating nets. The mussels harvested from the mussels beds and from the nets are grown to maturity in designated ‘culture plots’ before being marketed. In 2010, the fishers landed 1,070 tonnes of blue mussels.
Strict management rules for Wadden Sea ensure mussel abundance
The Wadden Sea of Lower Saxony, a National Park, has restrictions on commercial activity. These help ensure there will always be sufficient mussels to support a commercial fishery alongside important wildlife such as the eider duck and oyster catchers who feed on them.
For the blue mussel fishers, the rules mean that almost one third of the 102 stable mussel locations in the Wadden Sea of Lower Saxony are closed to fishing. Fisher David de Leeuw comments: “It is the right thing to do. Being a fisher you cannot force things. You have to work together with Mother Nature.”
Further measures governing the fishery are:
- The fishers have to get permission from the authorities for each mussel bed they want to harvest.
- There is a closed season for those areas of the Wadden Sea of Lower Saxony that fall dry during low tide: From mid-December to the end of March, no fishing is allowed there.
- The population size area has to have at least 1,000 hectares and the biomass - meaning the living weight of the mussels - has to be at least 10,000 tonnes. If these numbers are undercut in two successive years by more than ten per cent, the fishery will be closed and the authorities will not issue any licences until at least one of these indicators are met again.
- The fishers have to record all of their activities using a ‘Black Box’. This satellite-based surveillance gives the authorities complete control over the fishery.
Annual stock analysis shows that the rules are effective: The mussel biomass has increased from 9,000 to 39,000 tonnes between 2005 and 2012.
Research project will deepen understanding of Wadden Sea
As part of the MSC certification, the fishers have committed to carrying out a research project to find out whether further stable mussel beds can develop in the Wadden Sea of Lower Saxony. Dr. Adriaan Gittenberger, who will coordinate the research project at the Dutch institute for marine science GIMaRIS, appreciates the fishers’ willingness to cooperate: “The Lower Saxony mussel fishery will provide scientists with valuable data and contribute to the understanding of the ecosystem and its conservation”.
The fishery has shown during assessment that operations and management are effective in making sure that the blue mussel stock and the marine environment are preserved. The fishery therefore meets the requirements for MSC certification. Marnie Bammert, Deputy Director Europe of MSC, says: “Recent independent benchmarking studies commissioned by WWF and carried out by the Monterey Bay Aquarium show that no other seafood sustainability certification program approaches the credibility and market acceptance of the MSC program. The fishers from Lower Saxony count among only 215 fishing operations globally that have been able to demonstrate that they meet our demanding requirements. We heartily congratulate the blue mussel fishers for achieving the MSC ecolabel.”