Meet Cambridge's mussel man

How shellfish farming could help meet food needs

Aquaculture is a fast growing industry and one which is going to see a lot more attention paid to it as society is forced to respond to the challenges of food sustainability. As demand for fish and shellfish products increases there's a growing recognition that we will need to breed and harvest these animals in captivity. The total production of Atlantic salmon in Scotland alone in 2021 was just over 205,000 tonnes, an increase of 7% on the previous year.

Broderick House is studying for a PhD in Zoology at Cambridge. He's researching how bivalves such as mussels, clams and oysters can be harvested in more intensive, but sustainable, ways. He's also a Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholar and was recently named by the communications agency, Cofinitive, as one of East Anglia's #21toWatch.

"With a global population greater than 8 billion (and still growing), and our climate drastically changing, we're facing an enormous challenge to provide nutritious and accessible food for all. For this reason, my research is focussed on delivering nutrient rich marine bivalves to urban environments that lack access to the ocean. How we turn urban mussel and oyster farming into a reality, now that is the question. When tackling this the first challenge we meet is the reliance on freshwater rather than natural seawater. Immediately this raises questions of sustainability.

When it comes to agricultural techniques, people are familiar with the large amounts of land and freshwater that are needed. However, with the introduction of vertical farming methods in relation to fruits and vegetables, plants have been grown on vertical stands with recirculating water, vastly reducing the land and water requirements they need to grow to market size. This agricultural innovation is what led us to ask hypothetical questions such as: could we bring the ocean inland by creating ‘vertical seafood farming’?

Take shrimp for example, six or seven years ago, the idea of cultivating them on land wasn’t considered feasible and now it's a reality. So if you can do it with shrimp, I think yes, it is possible to do it with mussels, oysters or any sort of bivalve."

Broderick at a shellfish farm in Norway

"When I started this endeavour in 2021, there was scepticism due to the newness of the concept. However, this is not a siloed endeavour, and it’s why I’m speaking with policymakers, farmers, businesses and other researchers within the aquaculture field. Initially, many were surprised and curious about the idea. Some farmers were also concerned that it might replace their traditional methods. As a result, I have also been very active in trying to include farmers in the conversation, so whatever the outcome may be, it is an innovation that complements and diversifies the existing practices, rather than replacing them.

There’s naturally a good deal of suspicion about this from a feasibility and environmental standpoint. However, over time, I've seen attitudes shift as more people recognise the potential benefits for increasing access of highly nutritious seafood by means of urban bivalve aquaculture. It has also meant an increase in collaboration and excitement in pushing the boundaries around the future of food, and aquaculture technologies. 

Without funding from the Harding Programme, I wouldn’t be here and the work that I’m doing would not be where it is at today either. As a biochemist and biomedical engineer with a background in neuroscience, healthcare and frontline work in developing countries, I’ve seen first hand the impact a nutrient deficient diet can have on an individual.

These insights are what give me the motivation to contribute to tackling such a large challenge that is the global food security crisis and help pave the way for new forms of aquaculture.

I feel immensely honoured to have been selected to be a part of the Harding community, and the wider University of Cambridge ecosystem. Because of the Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholarship, and the immense support from all those I have had the pleasure to work with, I feel I can make a real impact in what I am doing.”

Broderick House receiving his award

Credit: Keith Heppell

Credit: Keith Heppell

Credit: Keith Heppell

Main image: Nick Safell

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