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Building healthy mussels

(January 27, 2000, Gazette)

Mussel bound
Cyr Couturier and Dr. Jay Parsons from the Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development at the Marine Institute are involved in the mussel health project.

By Andris Petersons
SPARK student

First, they arrive from the growers to the Marine Institute. In the lab they are presented to a jury and their image judged. They undergo surgery – dissection. Then they enter the process of histology – their bodies chemically preserved probably until the next millennium. Later they find themselves dressed in wax and cut into very thin sections. Before the meeting with the microscope they put on some brilliant colours.

They are mussels.

Cyr Couturier and Dr. Jay Parsons from the Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development at the Marine Institute are involved in many projects. One of them is the mussel health project.

The objectives of the mussel health project are to grow mussels to market size and to move mussels to other areas. The mussels need to be healthy in order to avoid spreading disease and to keep their population stable.

“Essentially, if you are in industry and you want to expand your production, one of the areas of interest is whether or not your stocks are healthy or remain healthy,” Mr. Couturier explained. This is one of the reasons why the overall mussel production program is important both provincially and nationally.

It is important to recognize potential problems and to find out the problems before they become major issues. The idea is not only the health status of the stocks.

“One of our original objectives as university researchers was to provide some capabilities within the province for shellfish diagnostics in general,” Mr. Couturier said.

Most of this work, looking at potential diseases and potential parasites, is done on a microscopic level. Sampling of the overall condition of the mussel covers 30 farms, 60 animals from each farm, three pieces of tissue from every animal and one slide per animal with different parts of the animal on it.

“At the end of the mussel health project, we are hoping that we will have some idea what is the distribution of potential disease factors throughout the province – if the particular disease factor shows up every year or just occasionally and if there is low or high incidence among stocks of this particular disease factor,” Dr. Parsons said.

Other objectives have evolved such as the identification and the causes of stress proteins in mussels. Research has revealed that stress proteins in mussels may indicate potential diseases.

Mr. Couturier, Dr. Parsons and other researchers started the mussel production program in 1997 and plan to complete it by early 2000. Apart from the mussel health project, the program also includes environmental monitoring, mussel seed genetics, extension and technology development, field and physiological evaluation of production capacity and seed supply.

The mussel production program in general involves a whole network of collaboration. MUN’s contribution to the program is researchers, research assistants, technical people, four M.Sc. graduate students in aquaculture and four advanced diploma students. Some of the objectives of the mussel production program are similar to those of NSERC projects of other researchers and collaboration with NSERC researchers is undertaken within the program.

It also involves many institutions such as the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the National Research Council. The mussel production program is supported by the Canada/Newfoundland Economic Renewal Agreement, the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation, the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association and Memorial University.