one on one with the Sun
Wednesday May 4, 2016
The view from Clearwater Mussels’ Kenepuru Sound farm in the Marlborough Sounds. INSET: Clearwater Mussels’ vessel harvesting greenshell mussels at its Kenepuru Sound farm.
A life on the water
John Young of Clearwater Mussels, based in Havelock, was named South Island Farmer of the Year for 2015, the first time a marine farmer has won the award. Cathie Bell went along on the field trip to learn how he did it.
Some men are into cars or motorbikes or a particular sports team and can tell you absolutely everything about them in minute detail – John Young is like that about greenshell mussels. He makes everyone on a recent field trip into Pelorus Sound to visit mussel farms gasp when he says that greenshell mussels drink 360 litres of water a day – “that’s more than your average university student drinks,” one participant jokes. The lifecycle of the mussel, its likes and dislikes, they’re all something he can muse upon, the way other men might about dogs, horses, or cars. While they’re a ‘lovely product’, the creatures themselves are difficult things to grow, he says. It’s a complicated balance between what comes down the river, what wells up from the Cook Strait flows, and the level of sunlight. “Everything has to be right or it disappears into the void as a young mussel or just curls up its toes.” Originally a marine biologist, John came to Havelock in 1974, met partner Lyn Godsiff, and joined the mussel industry in 1984, adopting methods from
John Young, of Clearwater Mussels, South Island Farmer of the Year.
Spain and later Japan, before developing his own farms and technology. That passion for mussels, the industry, technology has seen John over 23 years grow their Waitaria Bay company, originally called ‘Clark Island’, to produce 2200 tonnes of mussels from 16 farms by 2007. In 2007, Clearwater Mussels was formed when John and Lyn amalgamated Clark Island with PBT Mussels and Talleys, and he
then managed 28 farms producing 5000 tonnes. That has continued to grow, this year producing 10,000 tonnes – about 11 per cent of the total industry’s production – from 90 farms in the Marlborough Sounds and Golden Bay, with a goal of 12,000 tonnes by next year. His passion for mussels, his industry, and his company with Lyn saw Clearwater Mussels awarded joint winner of last year’s Lincoln University Foundation
South Island Farmer of the Year Competition (with Omarama Station near Te Anau). The foundation held its first ever winner’s field day at sea, with about 200 people taking three boats from Havelock to see Clearwater’s Kenepuru Sounds farm. While the sea was a new environment for many, John says it was the same for both land and marine farmers – ‘it’s about feeding plants to animals so they can turn it into protein for people to eat’. Many issues are the same, but marine farmers have more tensions with the wider community as they use public water space and there are competing uses. Looking after the water is important to marine farmers because quality of the water affects the quality of our product, John says. “Looking after our water is a passion of mine. One of the reasons I’ve invested my life in this industry is because this is one of the most efficient and sustainable forms of primary production. “From below, it’s just mussels hanging out...We could leave it now, it would leave no footprint.”
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