“For mussels, oysters, seaweeds, other species of fish, possibly even sea horses – there are wonderful opportunities for marine farmers ”
It’s 1980 and John Croft is readying himself to appear on the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.
Nearing the end of a American-wide tour promoting McFarlane’s Greenshell mussel powder, Mr Croft was set to join an illustrious list of guests, including Muhammad Ali and the Jackson Five, to have appeared on television screens alongside the man known as the King of Late Night.
But before he got to hear that famous line ‘Heeere’s Johnny’, the phone rang.
“I was in the hotel room ready to go on and got a call from the McFarlane’s company lawyer,” he said.
“He said you’d better get yourself out of San Francisco – the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) will be looking for you.”
When it comes to the therapeutic benefits of the Greenshell Mussel, Mr Croft wrote the book on it. Literally.
His title, Natural relief from arthritis – a Safe and Effective Treatment from the Ocean, was published in 1979 and prompted the speaking and promotional tour of the USA.
Mr Croft appeared all over the country carefully promoting the general health benefits of mussels but before he made it onto the Johnny Carson show, a generic Greenshell mussel advertising campaign had upset authorities by claiming New Zealand mussels to be an arthritis cure.
The FDA reacted strongly to the claims.
“Our people didn’t want me arrested, they said get yourself out of there,” he said.
“I went straight to the airport and was out of there that night.
“In the end I couldn’t go on the show because I had to get out of the States.”
The FDA subsequently banned the import of mussel extracts in what was a huge blow to the industry.
“It was sad, because it had just really taken off,” Mr Croft said.
“It was a major set back to the growth of the product.”
The ban was eventually overturned and today America is one of world’s largest buyers of Freeze Dried Mussel Powder with market demand growing each year.
According to the latest Seafood Industry Council export statistics, New Zealand exported 298 tonnes of Freeze Dried Mussel Powder, to an approximate value of $14.5M in the year ending December 10.
While growth has been continual, the reasons for demand have changed.
“At first it was a novel thing, that the sea was being farmed to produce a nutraceutical,” he said.
“But now days, it’s topical because the latest findings on some extracts are amazing – they’re doing some things that pharmaceuticals can’t do.
“There is one extract, made only by Vitaco called Seatone, which will actually inhibit the specific enzymes that denature the joint matrix and cartilage,” said Mr Croft who works as a consultant for various international companies, including Vitaco Health (NZ) Ltd.
And after 30 years in the business, Mr Croft believes there is still plenty of upside for marine farmers.
“The potential is enormous,” he said.
“New Zealand is an ideal place for aquaculture – it’s north-south orientated, has a variety of waters, is very rich nutritionally, and has a long coast line suitable for farming a variety of species.
“For mussels, oysters, seaweeds, other species of fish, possibly even sea horses – there are wonderful opportunities for marine farmers.”