Sea aquaculture in the polder; is the wading area ready? | Opinion

In order to provide millions of people with sufficient protein, more investment is being made in the production of vegetable protein. It is preferred that this production takes place nearby. The salinization of areas along the coast also creates additional opportunities for the cultivation of cockles, an alternative source of protein.

Since 2007, I have been engaged in the development of the cultivation of cockles within the dykes, a form of marine aquaculture with a future, certainly in the Wadden area for me. Not only because I myself am active in that sector, but also because shellfish farming on land is one of the most sustainable productions of animal protein. Coupled with the quest for an increasing degree of protein self-sufficiency and the increasing salinity pressure along the coast, the future prospects for a cockle like me are growing. But is the flood plain itself ready?

Marine aquaculture is a specialized form of aquaculture and includes the cultivation of marine species at sea and on land. In particular, I see increasing opportunities in the Wadden area for the cultivation of cockles on land. And these opportunities will only increase in the coming decades with progress in climate change.

Marine aquaculture has great potential as it responds to global challenges related to food supply, climate change and sustainability. The demand for healthy and sustainably produced food is increasing.

Dependence

Our food supply is in a transition period. To meet the need for vegetable protein, the EU wants to become less dependent on imports of protein-rich crops such as soy. As a result, the Netherlands has developed a national protein strategy with the aim of increasing the self-sufficiency level of new and vegetable proteins in a sustainable way over the next five to ten years. Sustainably produced proteins from shellfish are not new or plant-based, but they can certainly meet part of the protein needs of European citizens.

The environmental impact of shellfish is low compared to other animal proteins. The energy input is also low and comparable to vegetable production on land, especially if the production only uses the natural tides and the food supply present in the natural seawater. And that is precisely my intention. A circular production system on land for local species throughout the production cycle from seed production to a commercial product is appropriate for the Wadden area.

Risks

Developing aquaculture in the Wadden area is a tough task for entrepreneurs like me, which entails a lot of risks. Everything must be right for a successful start.

At the beginning of July, I participated in a workshop on the possibilities for the development of a cockle in the Wadden area. Due to the specific sales market and aspects such as education, cultivation techniques, financing and regulation, cooperation and support in this pioneer phase are important prerequisites for success. Experience shows, for example, that in the case of new markets and new products, only 10 percent of financing applications are accepted, even if you have a solid plan. More progress is being made on the production and sales side. Potential dividends of 35,000 euros per hectares does not seem improbable, and the number of potentially suitable production sites along the coast is increasing. Trade and sales do not appear to be a problem for cockles for the time being.

Support base

During the workshop, we talked about the entire chain, but not about the prerequisites that must enable successful breeding of cockles on land. Think about requirements from spatial planning, water management or sanitary requirements that must prevent unwanted effects from occurring. Also consider the support from the surrounding area for this very different type of land use than people are used to.

I am convinced that there is scope for a new sector in the polders along the Wadden Sea that can be slowly established and, if successful, expanded and hopefully offer a solution for farmers dealing with salinity conditions: aquaculture.

André Seinen is the founder of Meromar Seafoods. This article was created on the initiative of the Vadeakademiet.

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