New genome project aims to help P.E.I. mussel growers tackle climate change

·3 min read

Mussel growers on P.E.I. are excited about a new project that will help them selectively breed mussels to be more resistant to climate change.

The $800,000 project was created by Genome Atlantic and $300,000 of that came from the Atlantic Fisheries Fund.

Tiago Hori, director of research and development at Atlantic Aqua Farms in Vernon Bridge, P.E.I., told Island Morning's Laura Chapin that growers will look at which mussels have a higher degree of resistance to warming ocean temperatures. Then they can figure out which parts of the genome cause that trait.

"We think that temperature resistance can be an important trait for mussels, if indeed the climate keeps changing towards hotter temperatures," said Hori.

Warm waters big challenge

P.E.I. provides 80 per cent of North America's mussels, in an industry that employs around 1,500 people.

The biggest challenge for Island mussel farmers right now is water temperature, Hori said, because mussels are grown in shallow estuaries, where temperatures can increase quickly.

Submitted by Tiago Hori
Submitted by Tiago Hori

"We are concerned that if the climate keeps warming, that we're starting to reach critical temperatures that might be lethal to the mussels and could lead to large losses of product," said Hori.

Kristin Tweel, the director of sector innovation for Genome Atlantic, explained that selective breeding has been used for centuries.

"Genomics simply allows us to identify a lot more quickly the traits that we're most interested in breeding, without making any artificial changes at a genetic level," said Tweel.

Hoping to grow the industry

Along with selecting mussels for their ability to survive warmer temperatures, Hori said another goal of the project is to use genomics to improve the growth of P.E.I. mussels.

"If we can reduce the growth cycle, then we can increase growth but we also can increase efficiency," said Hori.

"You could stay with the same target of production, but in a reduced number of leases. And that would lead to a huge increase in efficiency and a huge decrease in costs, because now … you're having to do less with management and all of that."

You want an animal that grows fast but that retains the characteristics that are essential to that product. — Tiago Hori, Atlantic Aqua Farms

Would any of this selective breeding have an impact on the next bowl of P.E.I. mussels you may order in a restaurant?

Hori confirms that the taste and texture of the mussels would still be a top priority.

"When you breed an animal, you don't select for a trait … in a blind way. You select it based on that trait, but taking into consideration other things, like meat yield and taste," he said.

"You want an animal that grows fast but that retains the characteristics that are essential to that product."

Untapped aquaculture potential

Hori also pointed out that because of climate change, we'll likely be eating more and more seafood in the years to come.

"If you look at some of the estimates the UN has for the consumption of seafood in the next 20 years, there will be a significant increase in the amount of seafood required to provide seafood to the human population."

Shellfish, Hori said, have a much smaller risk of having a negative impact on the environment because they consume organic matter.

"There is a lot of untapped aquaculture potential."

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