Supermarket group Colruyt has been awarded the necessary permits to create a new sea-farm off the coast at Nieuwpoort, to grow mussels, oysters and seaweed.
The new farm will be established in the Westdiep zone, some five kilometres off the coast of Nieuwpoort and Koksijde. The town of Nieuwpoort objected to the plans, and says it intends to appeal the grant of the operating and environmental permits.
For a nation that so loves mussels, Belgium has a distinct lack of its own production: the vast majority of the mussels consumed so eagerly here come from the Netherlands.
By 2022, that will all change, Colruyt says. That is when the first limited commercial harvest of Belgian mussels will be landed. A year after that, production will be up to full capacity of an estimated 500 tonnes.
Later on, the sea-farm will start production of oysters and edible seaweed – an increasingly popular foodstuff in itself, as well as an ingredient in other food products.
But the project has come up against opposition, mainly from the town of Nieuwpoort. In October the town took the project to the Council of State to contest the grant of the licences before that had even taken place, and the outcome of that case remains to be seen.
Nieuwpoort maintains that the zone concerned is not suitable for a sea-farming project of the extent planned by Colruyt.
“There is one essential question for the fisheries: leave enough room. That has not been respected here,” said Kris Vandecasteele (CD&V), town councillor for fisheries.
“We have retained the necessary lawyers,” mayor Geert Vanden Broucke (CD&V) told the Krant van West-Vlaanderen.
“We are sticking to our position: this location is very bad for fishing and for tourism. Even though fishing only represents 200 jobs in Nieuwpoort, the freshly supplied fish is extremely important to our tourism.”
The farm also represents a danger to small boats, he said.
“There is no public support for this project. I spoke to some fishermen this morning and their faces spoke volumes. This is war. Colruyt wants cooperation, but our position is: no. Not at that location. We have proposed another location, further out to sea. But Colruyt is not interested in that. At that point it is difficult to have a conversation.”
With the necessary permits in hand, Colruyt will now set out to find partners to make the plan a reality.
“Preferably local, Belgian partners,” said quality and production manager Stefan Goethaert. “In this way we can contribute to local employment and innovation in the Belgian aquaculture and food sector. We are delighted to have Belgian hydraulic engineer DEME on board.”