Mussel production was the first recorded organised shellfish farming in Europe: a culture on wooden stakes was reported in France in 1235. Since then, mussel farming has developed throughout the species’ range, namely the entire European coastal area. It began on the Atlantic coast with the blue mussel, followed by the Spanish Atlantic coast and the Mediterranean with the Mediterranean mussel, which is reared as far as the Black Sea. The different rearing techniques were perfected at the end of the 19th century, when mussel farming was developed to provide a source of low-cost protein. Mussels then became a very popular dish in Western Europe.
Latin name – Mytilus edulis (blue mussel)Production (EU-27) – 175 934 t (2007); 86 % of global production.Value (EU-27) – EUR 231 million (2007).Main EU producer countries – France, Netherlands, Ireland, United Kingdom.Main producer countries worldwide – Idem.Latin name – Mytilus galloprovincialis (Mediterranean mussel)Production (EU-27) – 306 934 t (2007).Value (EU-27) – EUR 86 265 000 (2006).Main EU producer countries – Spain, Italy.Main producer countries worldwide – Idem.Fact sheet
Both European species of mussels are grown in their natural setting.
From March to October depending on the latitude, the mussel produces larvae that are carried by currents. In less than 72 hours, the larvae fatten and, since they can no longer float, try to attach themselves to various supports. Unlike oysters, they do not attach themselves directly to the support but use filaments called byssus. The most common means of collecting the seed (spat) is a rope placed at a location chosen in terms of currents and availability of micro-organisms. Between May and July, these ropes are collected and transferred to mussel farms. In waters that are too cold, mussel seed cannot be collected and the juvenile mussels are then collected from natural deposits.
Whichever method is used, mussels are always farmed in areas rich in plankton. Mussels feed naturally on these micro-organisms by constantly filtering the sea water. Rearing until harvest takes around one year. Four methods are used in European coastal areas:
• On plots or by spreading (primarily in the Netherlands) – The juveniles are spread over plots in shallow water, generally in bays or sheltered areas and they attach to the ground. The mussels are harvested by dredging with specially fitted vessels.
• On stakes (called ‘bouchots’ in France) – This culture uses rows of wooden stakes driven into intertidal ground. Three to five metres of collecting rope or tubing filled with spat are wrapped around the stake and attached. A net is then placed over the whole structure to keep the mussels from falling as they fatten on the stake. The mussels are harvested by manual or mechanical scraping to detach the clump of mussels from its wooden support.
• On ropes (in Spain and the Mediterranean) – The mussels are attached to ropes that are suspended vertically in the water from a fixed or floating structure. This technique is suitable for seas with weak tides like the Mediterranean, but is being introduced in the Atlantic Ocean with the development of offshore mussel farming, as in France, Ireland and Belgium. The mussels are harvested by raising the ropes out of the water and removing the clusters.
• On trestles – In some places, mussels are grown using the same technique as for oysters, in mesh bags on trestles set up on intertidal ground, or directly on the ground.
Mussels are generally eaten cooked, but can also be eaten raw, like oysters. They are mostly sold live, but can also be sold as processed products, tinned or in a marinade.
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