Hi, I'm Alan Bryne. I'm a mussel farmer and I farm with my brother Lawrie on the West Coast of Scotland. We are producers of high-quality rope grown mussels, our farm is based near Fort William, Inverness-shire.

Optimum growing conditions

Our mussels are grown in the pure, plankton rich waters of the North Atlantic, free from contamination, which offers optimum growing conditions.

Our mussel farm was established in 1999, and we both enjoy looking after the farm and working on new innovations. The best thing about my job is when we harvest a good crop of great quality mussels for our customers to enjoy.

Hard part of the job

The hardest part of my job is having to deal with the ever-changing challenges that the wonderful mother nature throws at us! However, we are planning on doubling our production over the next few years, whilst keeping the excellent quality mussel we currently produce.

The future

Our future innovations are looking into optimising mussel growth and quality by using different farming locations for different growth stages of our mussels. Traditionally we would grow them from spat to harvest at the same location.

Our mussel farm operates a strict monitoring program, taking regular samples for testing in an accredited laboratory, ensuring our mussels are always safe to eat.

winter is coming

Summer is over

I am writing on a brisk Shetland autumn day, which anyone might mistake for a full-blown winter’s gale in more southerly climates.  As often as not up here, the weather snaps from summer to winter in one fell swoop and the summer seems very much behind us now.   Despite southern parts of Britain getting a final flourish of heat, we seem to be lined up for several weeks of gales and cool temperatures of 7 degrees or below.  So, I’m calling it - summer is over.

Unique shellfish

It is however the cold temperatures and cold sea water that make our shellfish unique.  So, getting into this part of the season has its benefits and it is one of the best times of the year for the mussels themselves. They have just had a long summer of warm days, plenty of plankton to eat to build up their meats and followed by the current cooler conditions for harvesting mean they should be getting to market in top condition right now.

winter is coming


Despite the cooler conditions, we have had a few visitors to the sites lately with the first being the board of Food Standards Scotland making the trip north to find out more about how we farm.  We discussed their sampling programme and how that works to classify our areas and ensure plankton blooms over the summer cannot cause the shellfish to become unsafe to eat.  We also talked about the extra work and testing we do on every harvest, to make sure all the shellfish we harvest are safely farmed and sustainable.  It was a really useful day and was great they made the effort to come up and see us.

winter is coming

Fresh mussels for the Chefs

The following week we had a delegation from Seafood Scotland, who had invited a group of Chefs up from the UK Mainland to also get the chance to see what we do.  We were able to show them the farms and also the factory where Scottish Shellfish boxes up the mussels for the wholesale markets.  They were keen to get their hands on some shells and take them up to the local award-winning restaurant Frankie’s and try their own recipes with product still dripping with seawater.  They too seemed to enjoy the visit and hopefully went back fully inspired to use our shellfish in their daily menus.

winter is coming

Autumn harvesting

Moving through autumn we expect to mainly be harvesting, getting the sites battened down for the rest of the winter and planning for next year’s spring spat input.  You can follow Shetland Mussels on twitter for more regular updates of farm happenings @ShetlandMussels

family business

Family Business

Gordon Turnbull farms with his father Nick (who has decided to retire and hand over the reins) on the North West of the Island of Mull.  The family home is on the site of the pacific oyster farm and it can sustain 3 million oysters at various stages of growth.


Gordon has an MSC in Marine Resource Management and has driven the business into the 21stcentury. This qualification has given him the knowledge and ability to protect our coasts and oceans while oyster farming.  But also managing environmental, socio-cultural and institutional resources.

Oyster Demand

The family oyster farm was established in 1990, when demand wasn’t too high for oysters. It now produces in excess of half a million oysters each year! Gordon came on board in the family business in 2010, with the aim to continue to grow high quality oysters to meet the growing demand.

Family Businesses!

Kenny, who is Gordon’s younger brother, has diversified to create his own business fishing lobster, crab and prawns. Gordon (and until recently, Nick) has focused purely on the growing, management and production of oysters. They are always trialling new growing techniques from around the world, with the intention to produce the finest oyster possible.


Our produce is the best and most sustainable because of a combination of hard work, nutrient rich and clean environment that the oysters grow in and the traditional trestle and bag system we use. We have a proud tradition and have some of the healthiest and most productive waters in the world, which makes Scottish shellfish the best”.

shellfish farming A proud tradition

Traditional healthy fare

Historically, shellfish was the food of the masses, but today it’s often regarded as a delicacy. And because of the relative rarity of consumption, some regard shellfish with suspicion. But seafood in general and shellfish in particular give us oils and vitamins which can help reduce heart disease, and they’re an important part of a healthy diet.

Genuine fast food

Our reluctance to eat shellfish is partly because we don’t know how to prepare it at home.  Shellfish is a genuine fast food which requires little effort to prepare. And there’s evidence that this message is beginning to hit home.

An upward trend

Although production of shellfish varies every year (due to weather, market prices and poor growth) statistics show that the shellfish industry in Scotland (dominated by mussels, scallops and oysters) is growing. In 2016, for example mussel production increased by six per cent, pacific oysters are up by 31% from 2015, and queen scallop production has increased by a staggering 370% in the same period. The Scottish shellfish industry itself is valued at £11.7m. (Source: Scottish Shellfish Farm Production Survey 2016)

Sustainable Scottish fishing

Today, Scotland leads the way in sustainable fishing practices. Most seafood is farmed rather than hand-picked, although the mussels themselves are cultivated or rope-grown, and no additives or feed are used. Ropes are set up in a carefully selected clean water area and the mussels attach themselves to the ropes, to be harvested a few years later. Celebrity chef Jean Claude Novelli describes Scottish mussels farmed in Shetland as "the best in the world".

A family business

Traditionally, shellfish farming is a family business. Often established in remote coastal areas where employment opportunities were limited. Shellfish can’t be farmed intensively, cultivation requires specialist skills, sometimes honed over generations. Today there are nearly 200 shellfish farming businesses in Scotland, many of which are still family run.

Working together

Despite the focus on family-run businesses, our shellfish farmers often work together to market and sell their products at agreed prices.  These co-operatives keep marketing prices down, and the market buoyant and healthy.

The personal touch

Although we work together with a number of different farmers, we still believe in the personal touch.  All of our produce can be traced back to its original source. Our shellfish farmers are based on the west coast of Scotland and on Shetland, and their oysters, mussels and scallops have their own unique qualities depending on the skills and methods used and the farm itself. Our individual farmers’ stories contribute overall to the history of Scottish shellfish and are an important part of our own story. Click here to read our farmers' stories.

Next time you’re considering what to cook for a simple weekday supper, why not eschew the traditional pizza or spaghetti bolognaise and try mussels or scallops instead? We have lots of great recipes on our website which are quick and easy to prepare, and much healthier for you.

By Nick Turnbull

It's been an interesting winter so far - generally quiet with high pressure allowing work to continue unabated at our intertidal oyster site. This is very unusual, normally deep depressions cross Scotland at this time of year prevent the tides from going out very far and consequently not allowing access to the trestles and bags of oysters. Yesterday when we took the water temperature from the long line site it was 9 degrees Celsius - the highest temperature I ever remember in January. Global warming? It can't all be bad news, as it probably keeps the oysters feeding and growing in months traditionally regarded as dormant months for shellfish. However everything has a knock on effect and we have yet to know how this will affect the marine environment and the species living in it. My younger son fishes for crab and lobster and he is increasingly seeing species that I never saw when I fished, such as spider crab and trigger fish.

Of course just as you get lulled into complacency, winter rears its ugly head in earnest, even if for just a few days. Last week the wind suddenly swung round to the north and a cold blast from the Arctic reminded us just how bad it could be on a north facing shore! The wind was strong and a proper severe gale. Working in these conditions is not easy with hailstones "shot" with force straight at your head, numbing the brain and slowing down physical effort. However it soon passed, the damage sorted and with a return of warm air, the brain or what's left of it, returns to a reasonable thinking process again. Like many working in the marine environment, we are probably obsessed with the weather and tides, they do of course impact on every aspect of our working lives - sorry!

Since the last blog our farm equipment has undergone a complete transformation. Gone is the old "rattling" grader to be replaced by our new quiet water grader. This was a big decision for us as the new grader was a big investment. The French industry, always innovative, has developed these water graders to cause less stress to the oysters. Having used this grader now for a couple of months we can already see the benefits. There are so many other benefits from this grader and coupled with a few ancillary pieces of equipment we can now double or treble the number of oysters we grade in the day.

Sales continued to be good and the run up to Christmas and New Year was excellent. With the quieter weather we managed all deliveries onto the mainland without a hitch. Normally we anticipate "panics" at this time of year, with cancelled ferries and a plan B put into place, so this was so much more relaxing! Now of course we are building up stocks for the next big event, St. Valentine's Day. How quickly this seems to come after the build up to Christmas and New Year. Our thanks go as ever to the Scottish Shellfish staff who manage the complexity of matching orders from remote farms into their factory then delivery out to the retail markets at what can be a difficult time of year. We are all getting better at forecasting the right quantities for delivery.

The oysters are looking and tasting good just now and the meat content is also good. We continue to work towards improving the quality of our oysters and believe by growing our own stock from the hatchery right through to the finished product we now have a better handle on the whole process.

As our customers increasingly gain knowledge of shellfish products and confidence in the shellfish products they are eating, it would be good if we could differentiate from oysters from other parts of the country with tasting notes a bit like you get when buying a bottle of wine or one of my favourite Islay whiskies. Perhaps one for the future?

Bud the oyster dog

Image above: Bud the oyster dog

With the growing season well underway there is work to be done every way you turn.  Oysters grow particularly quickly on the outer site and need graded every month, bags to be turned and in some cases oysters to be re-bagged due to overcrowding caused by their fast growth.

This early growth that was so promising, slowed down in May and June and has only really picked up again in mid-July.

This has put a strain on our harvesting commitments, and if these natural events are happening on our farm, then the likelihood is that it is happening to everyone else and it is testament to the great work of everybody at SSMG in ensuring customers are kept fully supplied with the highest quality oysters. As August creeps in and all is coming right, it won't be long before our oyster farms are agitating to sell more produce!

Over the years, whether it be oysters or mussels the one problem that occurs over and over again is matching the supply and demand.  I believe we have all got better at forecasting and delivering on these forecasts.  However, the growth and delivery of these shellfish depends on many factors, sometimes totally outwith the control of the grower.  Oysters unlike mussels are slightly more predictable as they don’t depend upon a natural spat fall.

As far as oysters are concerned we are trying to develop our growing cycle to enable us to have greater control over the whole process.  So it was great to be able to show Gillian Dickie and Nic Cargill from SSMG and the technical staff of a supermarket chain what we are trying to achieve.  I hope they found this process interesting – and I do know for sure that ‘Bud the oyster dog’ was a big hit with all of them.  The classic tractors also received a lot of attention!

As part of our expansion strategy, we are working on developing our deep water site.  This continues to perform well and we have recently increased the longline length and number allowing us to grow more hatchery seed and to a bigger size.  One of the really good things about today's technological world is the ease of communications from growers all over the world, meaning that we can learn from each other what works and what doesn't .  When we started growing oysters we relied on our own somewhat insular ideas to figure out the growing techniques.  This led to many mistakes before succeeding. It also led to some interesting and individual growing methods!  I intend to go into much more detail regarding these events, with my presentation at the forthcoming Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers conference in October.

We are now looking forward to our new grading equipment arriving from France - a water grader, that can now be viewed in action on YouTube or the makers own website. How good is it to see this bit of equipment actually working compared to the old diagrams and occasional photos? However, it is always good to go and meet farmers actually using this equipment both to see the equipment in real time use and importantly get their opinions on performance, etc. It is encouraging that most farmers have been only too happy to share their knowledge on the latest technology.

Will this be the last time we are part funded from the EU on this new and innovative equipment? Without this funding some alternative would need to be found to ensure the shellfish industry can continue to expand at the rate previously expected.   I would imagine that most of us involved in aquaculture view the impending exit with a degree of trepidation.

No doubt there have been heated discussions and arguments as to how all this will affect the Scottish shellfish industry, and am sure this will continue to be discussed at the forthcoming conference and round pub tables for some time to come.

Last time I wrote we were facing bad weather and trying to get our workboat painted and back in the sea.  I can happily report than the interim period has seen some excellent weather up here in Shetland and progress has been much easier.  Sun is always nice but what we needed was less wind to work quickly and luckily we have had a fair bit of both calm weather and sunshine.
The workboat painting is done and the boat is now back in action.  The photos below show the before and after.  Maybe we should do a workboat makeover programme sometime but it certainly feels good to have her smartened up.
She will be out of the water again soon to have an extension put in the middle as we plan to add four metres to the boat in September.  As we have grown the farm, the boat is struggling to meet the demands put on her so this will be a big help.  I will hopefully have pictures of that later in the year.

 new mussel site

New mussel site

We quickly put her back to work to install a complete new site on the east side of Shetland at Dury Voe.  This involved laying 880m of headlines, 12 anchors and individually tying on 3000 dropper nets to (hopefully) catch lots of spat on.  We completed this job yesterday and so now we can only wait to see if we get any small mussels settle.  It is certainly not guaranteed and it is a significant cost sometimes putting in ropes that catch no spat at all.  I guess that's why they call it 'fishing' not 'catching' - but it’s not the easiest way to run a business
As I mentioned in my last blog the hatchery project is progressing well and some initial mussels have been selected and spawned.  In my next blog I would hope to have a better update and perhaps even some news on our first hand reared spat but it’s still early days.  If it goes well, we could have a much more controlled way to produce the baby mussels in the future, and that would be very welcome.
One of my co-members of Scottish Shellfish is David Niven who operates up in Unst (UK’s most northern isle of all) and the strong tidal conditions up there mean that he cannot catch enough spat on his ropes to fill his farm.  The mussels don’t seem to have enough time to settle on the ropes and probably get carried away in the tide too quickly.  As an Unst man he is not likely to give up that easily and so has been working with other farmers for a number of years in the cooperative to catch spat on their sites and transfer it to Unst. In the last couple of weeks, he has been coming down to our farm to take away some mid-sized shells for further fattening up on his sites in Unst.  Today we loaded 3.5 tonnes of mussels (see photo) which are heading up to Unst now on a ferry and will be back in the sea by tea time tonight.  With the good flow of water in Unst they will be full sized and ready to eat by Christmas.
These are two examples of how we can work as a cooperative to play to our strengths, in this case through sharing spat catching/rearing resources we can help all our farmers to maximise our potential and meet the future demand for Scottish Mussels.

 boat-before  boat-after

Boat before paint

Boat after paint