Menai East: Frequently Asked Questions

Background

The eastern Menai Strait is the most important aquaculture site in all of Wales, and the single largest mussel farming area in the whole of the UK.  The success of this area is due to the unique natural environment that is perfect for mussels; and also the legal protection (known as a “Fishery Order”) that allows local mussel farmers to cultivate mussels here without the fear that they will be stolen by others. Hand gathering of wild mussels within the area is also covered by the Order.

Since devolution, the mussel fishery in the Menai Strait has been managed by the Menai Strait Fishery Order Management Association (MSFOMA), which was granted these powers by the Welsh Government in 2010. In March 2022 the “Fishery Order” for the Menai Strait is due to expire.  The replacement of this Fishery Order will help Wales to maintain its leading place in UK aquaculture, and to secure long-term jobs and businesses in the local economy.

The new Order only applies to shellfish farming.  It will not impose any new restrictions or controls on other existing day-to-day activities in the area.  For shellfish famers this new Fishery Order is vital for their future.  For everyone else in the area it will be very much “business as usual”.

What is proposed?

We are proposing a like-for-like renewal of the existing “Fishery Order”.  Experience and science tells us that areas that are suitable for mussel farming are few and far between.  Over the past 55 years we have identified the best places to farm mussels in the Menai Strait.  No changes to the extent of mussel farming are being proposed.

The location of the mussel farming areas in the eastern Menai Strait is shown in the map below.

What is the timetable?

MSFOMA submitted a formal application to the Welsh Government for the replacement of the current Fishery Order in August 2018.  We have been working closely with Welsh Government officials and providing them with further information since that time. Welsh Government are producing a draft Order, and in spring 2021 this will be advertised as part of a formal public consultation.

MSFOMA are keen to consult with local community and stakeholder groups to raise awareness and encourage a favourable response to the new Fishery Order. Any representations received will be considered by both MSFOMA and Welsh Government before a decision on approving the Order is made by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs.

Further details

The Menai Strait Fishery Order Management Association (MSFOMA) was set up in 2010 to oversee the management of the shellfish farming areas in the eastern Menai Strait.

MSFOMA is an independent not-for-profit organisation. Its membership comprises 2 representatives of the fishing industry, and 1 representative from each of Natural Resources Wales, Gwynedd County Council, Ynys Mon County Council, Beaumaris Town Council, Bangor City Council and the University of Bangor. Welsh Government also attend the quarterly meetings and it is chaired by Alan Winstone, an independent fisheries expert from Anglesey.
In Wales, a “Fishery Order” is an Order made by the Welsh Ministers that assigns the existing public fishing rights in the sea for certain species of shellfish to an individual or organisation.

A Fishery Order does not create any new fishing rights, but by privatising the fishing rights it allows for proactive management and cultivation of shellfish. It also can regulate the hand-gathering of wild mussels through a licensing system with appropriate conditions, such as minimum sizes and where and when harvesting takes place.

This does not affect anglers fishing on the shore or from boats, nor does it stop you from gathering worms or crabs to use as bait.
Mussels have been cultivated in the Menai Strait since 1962. Mussels are farmed in areas that are leased to each mussel farmer. Each farmer harvests small “seed” mussels and puts them on the shore in the sheltered waters of the Menai Strait. The mussels grow fast here, and within 2-3 years they are big enough to harvest and eat.

Mussel farming is done directly on the seabed – no nets or equipment are placed on the shore. Over the years the hand-gathering of mussels by licenced fishermen has also taken place from time to time when wild mussel numbers have reached harvestable levels.  

About mussel farming

Mussels are farmed by taking small (“seed”) mussels from ephemeral mussel beds and transporting them to the Menai Strait using specially designed mussel farming vessels.  In the Menai Strait the seed mussels are returned to the sea (a process called “relaying”) in the farmed areas (called “lays”).

It usually takes 2 years for these seed mussels to reach market size.  During this time the mussels may be moved from intertidal areas to subtidal areas by the mussel farmers to optimise their survival, growth, and quality.

Yes.  There is no need to treat farmed mussels with chemicals to control pests.  They don’t need to be fed either – they filter their food from the seawater, cleaning the water in the process.  In Sweden and Denmark, mussel farming is being used to clean up polluted waters.  Mussels are good for water quality and fix carbon dioxide to produce their shells.
Yes. Mussel farmers use boats but are only on site when re-laying and harvesting mussels. Vessel operations are limited to high water periods, mainly in the autumn-spring period, and generally between Monday and Friday.
Small “seed” mussels are collected from ephemeral mussel beds that can be found in most years in Morecambe Bay and also from time to time at Caernarfon Bar.  The seed mussels are collected using dredges.

Seed mussels settle from the plankton at these locations on to the cobbles and rocks left behind from the last Ice Age.  To avoid damaging these vital seabed habitats, the mussel farmers wait until the young mussels have built up a layer of mud beneath themselves.  This is typically in the period from August-October.  After October the young mussels are swept away by stormy weather in the autumn and winter, leaving the cobbles and rocks exposed and ready for a new settlement of mussels the next year.

Small "seed" mussels on a beach



This process has repeated year after year for the past 50 years.  In recent years the recruitment of seed mussels on the wild beds in Morecambe Bay and Caernarfon Bar has become less predictable, possibly as a result of climate change.

Mussel farmers are working with scientists here in North Wales to develop other ways of collecting seed mussels, which has proved to be a more reliable source of seed mussels in other countries – the pictures below show some of these mussels growing on ropes near to Puffin Island.

Seed mussels at experimental spat collector, Puffin Island

Yes. Mussel farming in the Menai Strait has been independently certified as a sustainable fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council. In fact it was the first mussel farming area in the world to be certified as sustainable.

Mussel farmers are constantly working with scientists from Bangor University’s Shellfish Centre and Centre for Applied Marine Sciences to improve farming methods and ensure that the sustainability of the fishery is always improving.
The Menai Strait is a nationally and internationally important site for marine wildlife and for coastal bird populations. The Fishery Order is located within the Menai Strait and Conwy Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and overlaps with the Traeth Lafan Special Protection Area (SPA). The extent of these areas is shown in the map below.


MSFOMA and the shellfish farmers work closely with Natural Resources Wales to ensure that mussel farming is compatible with the legal requirements to protect wildlife and habitats within the SPA and SAC areas. We also work with scientists from the University of Bangor to study the potential impacts of mussel farming on the marine environment. Many of these studies have been published in scientific journals, and give mussel farming a clean bill of health.
The new Fishery Order is very much a “like for like” replacement of the existing Order that has been such a success since the 1960s. It will ensure that shellfish farmers can continue their work, and will not affect existing day-to-day activities in the Menai Strait such as sailing, angling, or walking on the seashore.

Will I still be able to…

Yes. There are no restrictions on sailing over the shellfish farming areas. The farmers liaise closely with sailing organisations to ensure that work is planned to allow the marking of courses and avoid key sailing events (such as races).
Yes. The Fishery Order does not restrict access to the existing moorings in the area.
Yes. The Fishery Order does not restrict access to the beach or foreshore. You will still be able to walk on the shore.
Yes. The Fishery Order does not prevent or interfere with beaching of boats whether for picnics or for maintenance.
Yes. The Fishery Order is only concerned with shellfish, so you can fish from the shore or a boat as you always have, and can continue to gather worms or crabs for bait as before.
There are several ways you can find out more about the proposal. There is some information on the internet at www.msfoma.org; and you can contact us by e-mail at info@msfoma.org. If you would prefer to talk to us in person, you can call Jim Andrews on 07908-225865.
The consultation period on the new Order started on the 8th April 2021 and will last for a period of one month, ending on the 8th May 2021.

You can respond either by post or by e-mail. If possible, please respond to both MSFOMA and to Welsh Government – this is simply so that both parties will know what your views are, and to ensure compliance with data sharing legislation. You can do this by clicking this link here, which should automatically generate an e-mail for you with both the Welsh Government and MSFOMA e-mail addresses.

The full contact details for both Welsh Government and MSFOMA are:-

Menai Strait (East) Proposed Fishery Order, Marine and Fisheries Division, Welsh Government Office, Rhodfa Padarn, Llanbadarn Fawr, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 3UR. MarineandFisheries@gov.Wales.

Menai Strait Fishery Order Management Association, Port Penrhyn, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 4HN. info@msfoma.org

A PDF of this update can be downloaded for printing here.