Fish ropes
The project is one of 12 initiatives - three of them led by the University of Plymouth - designed to support sustainable fisheries management that have received funding as part of the Fisheries Industry Science Partnership (FISP) scheme, part of the Government’s UK Seafood Fund.
The Ropes to Reefs project will assess the ecosystem services and benefits of offshore mussel farming and assess the restoration of essential fish habitat (EFH), biodiversity and associated healthy fish stocks (biomass). The project also aims to quantify the connectivity of these ecosystem services and its connectivity with the adjacent MPA and spillover effect to fishing grounds.
Ropes to Reef
FISP infographic
Microscope marine life

Offshore mussel farming has the potential to become one of the world’s most sustainable, large-scale sources of healthy protein. Through the Ropes to Reefs project, we can gauge the industry’s potential benefits far beyond just providing a sustainable source of food. Working closely with the fishing and mussel farming industry, and building on previous and ongoing research, we can deliver essential evidence regarding the impact of offshore aquaculture. This will enable us to fully assess whether it can serve as a nature-based solution that preserves – if not enhances – the health and productivity of our ocean.

Emma SheehanEmma Sheehan
Associate Professor of Marine Ecology (Research)

Building evidence

Reporting lower environmental impacts and higher growth potential compared to traditional inshore farms, offshore mussel farming has the potential to become one of the most sustainable, large-scale sources of healthy protein.
By annually monitoring the UK’s first offshore, long-line mussel farm since it was first developed in 2013 in Lyme Bay UK, the University of Plymouth has used ecological and oceanographic techniques to evidence how the farm has delivered increases in pelagic, epi-benthic and infaunal biodiversity.
Midwater ropes

Data collection

This project’s methodology is based on a multi-trophic level approach combining ecological and oceanography techniques.
It will use non-destructive remote sampling techniques such as an echosounder, multibeam and ground truthing cameras deployed from local fishing boats, to produce high resolution data on the biodiversity and extent of essential fish habitat and associated mobile species. Fishes and crustaceans will also be tracked using acoustic tags via the world’s first multi-farm (mussel, scallop, and seaweed) aquaculture telemetry network.
Mussel Farm

The suspended rope culture offshore mussel farm in Lyme Bay has been designed to produce thousands of tonnes of sustainably farmed mussels from a relatively small area, which is less than 1% of Lyme Bay. During the past nine years of operation, we have witnessed the regeneration of biodiversity in the farmed area and huge increases in the number of fish and shellfish such as bass, mullet, crab and lobster. These benefit from habitat, shelter, nursery areas and food that is freely available around the ropes in the farm. The Ropes to Reefs project will provide evidence to determine whether the offshore mussel farm provides an enhancement effect to surrounding commercial fisheries, as the other species spill over from the protected area. It will also establish whether food produced by this type of aquaculture acts as an addition and not a replacement to traditional fisheries.

John Holmyard, Managing Director of Offshore Shellfish Ltd

Working in partnership

The project will build on a long-running partnership between the University and Offshore Shellfish Ltd, and will utilise the unique before and after ten-year dataset – generated through PhD studentships supported by the company – that has been collected throughout the development of the farm.
That long-term partnership will also work with other organisations directly involved in the UK offshore aquaculture industry, including Scallop Ranch Ltd and local seaweed farmer Biome Algae, along with the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, the Marine Management Organisation, the Fishmongers' Company's Fisheries Charitable Trust, Devon and Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, and Natural England.
The project will continue the UoP aMER team’s longstanding collaboration with local fishers in the southwest, with charter skippers being used at each stage project field work.
Offshore Shellfish Logo

The team