Mussels (Mytilus edulis) are invertebrates in the animal kingdom. As invertebrates, they have no backbones like mammals, birds, reptiles or fish. Mussels belong to the mollusk class, like octopus and snails, and are in the bivalve family because they have two shells, like oysters and clams. Mussels are known as filter-feeders: they pump water through their gills and capture phytoplankton, tiny marine plants. These phytoplankton make the water green, and over 900 different species exist in Maine. Preferring to live in cold water, from the intertidal zone to deep water (over 100 feet deep) in the ocean, mussels like to attach to ropes, docks, rocks, and the bottom. Maine is home to many different kinds of mussels, including freshwater mussels that can be found in rivers and lakes, ribbed mussels which live in salt marshes, and horse mussels which live in deep, cold water with high currents.
Native Americans ate mussels as long as 1,000 to 5,000 years ago in Maine. Mussels are a super food, high in protein, low in calories and fat, a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids (heart healthy), and a good source of vitamin B-12, vitamin C, vitamin A, Selenium, iron, manganese, selenium, calcium iodine and zinc.
They are also an aphrodisiac!
Mussel culture on floating rafts was pioneered in Spain, where over 200,000 tons per year are cultivated. Rafts have the advantage of growing a large amount of mussels in a small area (reducing competition with other uses of our coastal resources), the mussels can be protected from predation by sea ducks by using nets, and the rafts create favorable hydrodynamics for mussel feeding. Seed mussels are collected by hanging our 45 foot long pegged ropes in the water in mid-summer, and the ropes are thinned to optimal growing densities about 6-8 months later. Seed mussels are attached to grow-out ropes using a machine which wraps biodegradable cotton around the mussels in a sock. The grow-out ropes take about 12-14 months to mature before harvest. All the inputs into mussel raft culture are obtained locally (rafts and anchors from Newport, Maine, ropes and pegs from Warren, Maine, wood from Waldo County, vessels from Hancock County).
Mussel raft culture is environmentally sustainable: the mussels feed on natural phytoplankton, they act as natural biofilters and control eutrophication, they are a native species using collected wild seed, and the rafts and mussel cultures act as artificial reefs attracting dozens of species of invertebrates, fish and birds. As a source of protein, farmed mussels use a small fraction of the energy and water in relation to beef, pork and poultry.
Mussel seed on a collector rope with pegs in early fall
Seeding mussel rope with biodegradable cotton