Marlborough Shellfish Quality Programme (MSQP)
New Zealand’s aquaculture industry has built its reputation on seafood produced in a clean safe environment and leads the world in its quality management programmes. New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world where bivalve shellfish may be consumed raw directly from the growing areas. This is due to our comprehensive water quality and shellfish safety testing carried out by industry under the supervision of the New Zealand government Verification Agency.
As filter feeders grown in the coastal waters of New Zealand, the shellfish we harvest may have been exposed to algal toxins, human pathogens, and heavy metals. The testing programme is designed to ensure that the shellfish harvested are safe to consume.
MSQP is responsible for delivering a food safety testing programme to the bivalve shellfish growing areas in the top of the South Island; an area delivering most of the bivalve shellfish production and export capacity of New Zealand.
MSQP covers 22 growing areas active all year round and another 2 that operate seasonally. We have sampling officers and vessels that collect water and shellfish flesh samples and submit to world leading analytical laboratories based here in New Zealand. We test for harmful algae and algal biotoxins, bacterial contamination of growing areas and heavy metals.
Our sampling officers are on the water throughout the year in all weather and sea conditions. The programme operates 365 days a year.
Every year we take over 2400 water and shellfish flesh samples, and from those we carry out algal identification and enumeration on 2288 samples a year, bacterial culture to detect contamination on 276 samples a year, and we run 13,728 individual algal toxin tests every year.
In addition, MSQP operates 2 river flow gauges, 6 rain gauges and a marine sensor buoy that feed real time information on rain fall, river levels and salinity to our central database and reporting system every 15 minutes using both cellular and satellite communications systems to ensure continuous data integrity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This data is used to determine when growing areas are open and closed for harvest.
This extensive and sophisticated system helps ensure the food safety of New Zealand’s world beating shellfish; but it comes with a cost. In New Zealand that cost is borne entirely by the bivalve shellfish producers. MSQP is an independent body, an incorporated society, funded by the industry but closely monitored and audited by the regulator. It meets all the regulatory standards set by government and is often audited by overseas competent authorities, but because it is commercially based and independent of government it is agile to deliver cost efficient service delivery solutions.
In addition, MSQP is involved in the Safe NZ Seafood research programme, provides in-kind support for several research programmes investigating ocean acidification and new bacterial food safety challenges and gets involved in submissions to government on food safety legislative changes.
MSQP is funded by industry for industry. It is governed by an elected executive committee made up of members of the industry that contribute to the programme cost through levies; we encourage industry members to participate in the governance of the organisation and to contact MSQP if they have any queries about the operation of the programme or if they have any shellfish food safety concerns.