The world's first open sea clam farm is located in the Algarve, about 5 kilometers (3 nautical miles) off Lagos, and hopes to produce 'between 300 and 600 tonnes a year' of this bivalve. This is an investment of 3,1 million euros.
The first clams produced there by the Oceano Fresco company should begin to be sold "at the end of the year, in December", revealed Rodrigo Clímaco, biologist and nursery manager, during the visit that the Minister of the Sea made to this innovative investment, on Friday Tuesday, July 23, within the scope of the Blue Economy and Entrepreneurship Roadmap.
But Minister Ricardo Serrão Santos did not limit himself to visiting the nursery, not least because the lanterns, a kind of net boxes overlaid by floors, three meters high, where the clams are placed to fatten and grow, are located under water , out of sight of those on the surface.
The governor, himself a researcher linked to marine issues, donned the neoprene suit, put on the mask, the vest to which the air cylinder, fins, regulator is attached and jumped into the water to dive with Rodrigo Climatic, and thus get to know up close this nursery which is the first to produce clams «in the water column» in the whole world.
They both walked under the water for almost half an hour, having covered a good part of the already installed nursery, which will have a total area of 100 hectares and many kilometers of cables, as well as hundreds of yellow or black buoys, some delimiting the perimeter, others keep the entire structure of the pond afloat.
The edge of the support vessel – for now Oceano Fresco II, with 12 meters of open draft, while waiting for a larger vessel to be ready – the crew, guests and journalists (the reporter from the Sul Informação and a team from TVI) were getting more and more drenched, while the fort in the North churned the sea and made the waves sweep the deck.
On his return, after having got rid of his diving equipment, keeping only the suit, minister Ricardo Serrão Santos told reporters that "he had been in the maternity hospital for a few months," the Centro Biomarinho da Nazaré, owned by the Oceano Fresco company. , where the seed clam is produced, which is then brought to the Algarve, to grow and fatten, feeding on the microalgae that filters from the rich waters of the Barlavento.
«Today I had the opportunity to see this innovation project up close, which is the creation of clams in the water column», added Ricardo Serrão Santos, assuring that it is a project «that I love a lot».
It is about «innovation, because the clams are animals that live in the sediment, which grow here only filtering the water, in a production that has no added food, they are filter feeders that live off the plankton of this region», of this «exceptional environment», with "very rich" and "colder" waters.
"What is being done here has never been attempted," said the minister, stressing that the technique used by these offshore nurseries has so far only been used for the production of oysters and mussels. But the clam, he stressed, also has "great commercial value".
Rodrigo Clímaco, biologist and nursery manager, would add that “the traditional way of cultivating clams is in the estuaries or lagoon areas, in sediment, sand or mud. Here they are in the open sea, they only have sea water around them». «They are free in the natural environment, filtering the water».
The system used by Oceano Fresco «has been used for many years, the Japanese invented it, but for other species». In fact, in the Algarve mussels and oysters are produced using this technique. But, explains Rodrigo Clímaco, for "the clam still didn't happen, it had never been tried."
Advocating that it is necessary to «look ahead and think outside the box», the biologist recalls that «many people thought that it was not possible to create clams out of the sediment. Oceano Fresco believed that this was possible, after having studied a lot and done many tests. Our production director did all her PhD around this. Therefore, there was a whole knowledge here that made us take the step forward».
Explaining the process, Rodrigo says that it all starts at the Centro Biomarinho da Nazaré, where research takes place as well as motherhood, that is, where the clams reproduce and where the "small seed" comes from, which is brought to the nursery located off Lagos.
«With 3 or 4 millimeters we bring them to the Barlavento Algarvio sea and they are very well here, they grow very well, as can be seen from the size they already have». Rodrigo holds a handful of clams in his hand and takes an instrument to measure them. «They are 3,32» centimeters long, he says, turning to Ricardo Serrão Santos. And with what size can they be marketed? “From 3,38”, he answers. Little to go.
It is that, he stresses, «the growth rates are within what we expected, in some aspects they are even higher», as well as the survival at sea «is above the expected 70%, reaching 90%».
The manager reveals that, at the moment, there are about 150 lanterns in the water, with "more than 20 million clams". In December, this number should be reinforced with another hundred lanterns, so that, within a year, when the project is at cruising speed, it reaches 4000. But, when the nursery is at its maximum installed capacity, there will be «close to 10 thousand».
The production estimate is “to reach values between 300 and 600 tons”, in a total of 100 hectares. For now, when the first clams created here are ready to be marketed, "by December", they will only be "a few tons".
Showing the bivalves in the palm of his hand, with a proud smile, Rodrigo Clímaco says: «the clams are getting chubby. That's what people expect, that when they open a clam, it will have meat. And that is what is happening. They are spectacular to eat».
So "now we're going to prove it," says minister Serrão Santos. Razor in hand, he opens a clam and eats one of the bivalves, super fresh, just out of the water. "Hmm! Great! It really tastes like the sea! But it's a sweeter flavor than oysters».
The investment in the first open sea clam nursery, made by Oceano Fresco, totals 3,1 million euros, of which 1,5 million were provided by the MAR 2020 program (Fundo Azul and EEA Grants), 800 thousand euros by equity capital and the remainder comes mainly from various collaborative financing campaigns through loans (crowdlending), successfully promoted in the GoParity platform.
Meanwhile, the master of the vessel operated the crane mounted on board to pull one of the lanterns out of the water. Rodrigo Clímaco opened the network that involves the stacked shelves where the clams are placed to grow and shows the minister its interior. Inside, in addition to bivalves, there are other species, such as a sea urchin that Serrão Santos removes and shows. But other species such as barnacles or mussels also make the nursery their home.
Rodrigo Clímaco had already explained that, although fishing (and navigation) is prohibited in the area occupied by the structure, it ends up functioning as an “artificial reef”, which attracts other species and serves as a place of food and shelter for the fish. “We created here a natural ecosystem, good for the productivity of many other species”, he stresses. In other words, a kind of «sanctuary for the preservation of marine biodiversity», as the Ministry of the Sea had already pointed out. In addition, the clams only grow by feeding on the microalgae that filter from the water, away from the toxins that sometimes affect them. in normal nurseries.
All the more reasons for the Minister of the Sea to have no doubts that this is an "exemplary" project, which should be "cherished".
Photos: Elisabete Rodrigues | Sul Informação