AN AMBITIOUS project which aims to turn unwanted waste from South Devon's shellfish industry into a job creator has won a £75,000 government grant.
Backers say the money will be used to create a new local industry which could turn hundreds of tons of lobster, scallop and crab shells into a high-value agricultural product.
They say it could cut waste and transport costs and pollution, boost agriculture as well as creating processing and possibly manufacturing jobs.
The Coastal Communities grant has been made to the South Devon Fishing Industry Development consortium as part of an initiative to revitalise coastal towns by creating jobs and developing local skills.
The scheme pioneered at Churston, Brixham, is being headed by farmer and farm shop owner Richard Haddock and resident Adam Billings as Churston Soil Improvement.
The consortium had bid for £75,000 through South Hams Council towards the cost of the first phase of the programme of more than £225,000.
Mr Haddock said they had spent eight years researching and refining the technique to treat the shells which might also be used on fish waste.
He said: "I with, the old Devon Sea Fisheries and the South West Fish Producers Organisation, and others have come up with a pilot system to inject it into the ground.
"It works. We are in the last throes of the pilot which has cost some £150,000 and eventually we hope to be able to buy the waste off the fishing industry and use it for agriculture."
An expert from Exeter University became involved who raised issue of the traditional agricultural use of marine chitin, which comes from the skeletons of crabs, prawns, shrimps, and lobsters.
Mr Haddock explained the disposal of shells had got caught up in the BSE mad cow disease directives in Europe and special measures are needed to treat them.
Currently the industry pays for shells either to go to landfill at £350 a tonne, or they are sent for incineration, or they can pay to send them to Scotland to be used for roads and tracks in remote pine forests.
At the same time 90 per cent of the scallops are currently exported out of the Bay in their shells for processing, and the South West Fish Producers Organisation would like to see that processing done somewhere in a new factory in the Bay.
"That would create more jobs in Torbay. It could be hundreds," said Mr Haddock.
There is also the question of what happens to fish which would previously have been discarded at sea under the new fisheries policy.
Mr Haddock said: "Brixham has to make up a 40 tonne lorry load to send to Hull for processing as fishmeal, and in Brixham that could take a week and it could smell to high heaven. We could also emulsify the fish and put that into the ground and all that could be done in the Torbay area, creating more jobs."
Jim Portus, chief executive of the South West Fish Producers Organisation, confirmed they were supporting the bid.
He said: "I am prepared to believe what Mr Haddock has said about the project. Fish and fish products have been used in agricultural fertilisers since agriculture was invented.
"If we end up with problems from a fish discards ban with waste to dispose of, we need a solution locally to deal with the products. To be able to do it without noxious odours is a bonus. If it's not too expensive, if the soil is improved in the way he says it is, everyone's a winner."