Mussels are one of the oldest species found on the Earth today. In fact, evidence of their existence dates back to the very beginning of time. Nowadays, about 70 different species of mussels exist in the world, varying in length, shape and meat content according to their origin.
Three species are mainly farmed and consumed: Mytilus edulis on Northern European and Canadian shores, Mytilus galloprovincialis on Mediterranean, Spanish, Portuguese and Atlantic coast lines, and Perna canaliculus in Austrasia (mainly New Zealand and Australia).
Cultured mussels have been around for nearly 900 years, since the 12th century. A ship-wrecked sailor off the coast of France named Walton placed poles with netting in the water to catch fish. When he checked the nets, he noticed that mussels had attached themselves to the poles. This has become today a farming technique known as the Bouchot method.
Bouchots are vertical polls made of wood or plastics pushed into the ground, around which ropes made of coco fibers used to grow the mussels are tied in a spiral. A net called “catin” is added after a few months of farming to prevent mussels from unhooking themselves. This technique requires an extended tidal zone as polls must be covered at high tide and accessible for farmers at low tide.
Other farming methods now exist:
- The suspension farming method which consists of a main rope kept at sea level with mooring buoys over 100 meters and riveted to the ground by two anchors at each end, several ropes ballasted at one end and attached to the main rope at the other, and coco fiber rolled around the ballasted ropes and used to attach and grow the mussels. The advantage of this technique lies in the fact that mussels are constantly in water and can therefore feed themselves uninterruptedly. The drawback is the easier predator attacks – especially snappers.
- The under-table suspension, practiced mainly in lagoons, known as the table farming method.
- The under-raft suspension, practiced in Spain, known as the bateas technique
In North America, wild mussels have been harvested since the early 1900s. Suspended cultivation of blue mussels began in the 1970s in Seattle, Washington and soon after in Atlantic Canada.
The global industry now produces more than 2 million tons a year and employs 1.5 million people. In 2005, China accounted for 40 per cent of the global mussel catch according to a FAO study. Within Europe, Spain remained the industry leader. In North America, 80% of cultured mussels are produced in Prince Edward Island in Canada.
Mussels are bivalve mollusks characterized by:
• A bivalve shell protecting the mucuous membrane
• A large mantle covering the whole body
• A mantle cavity into which urines and gametes are flowing
• Two adductor muscles to close the shell
• Gills located in the mantle cavity
• A byssus – bundle of silky filaments – often called beard by which mussels attach themselves to hard surfaces (bouchots, rocks, etc…).
Fresh mussels are not only tasty, they also constitute an excellent healthy choice. They are high in omega-3 and contain much of the recommended daily intake of zinc, iodine, iron, and vitamins B and C.
Mussels are also very low in fat (2.2 g fat per 100 g mussel meat) and low in carbohydrates. An average serving of fresh mussels contains about 90 calories.
Prepared together with other low fat foods, mussels are part of a healthy meal, nutritious and filling. We can therefore appreciate this delicacy of the sea in full peace of mind.