Stress is one of those double edged swords that can push somebody to max performance while breaking them down at the same time. Ultimately it has negative impacts on most things that it encounters, and shellfish are no different. If exposed to stressful conditions for long enough periods of time shellfish will crumble under the weight of their world, so to say.
Just recently we harvested the last Blue Gold Mussels from the Newport site and had mixed results. We noticed an increased mortality from our observations two months prior and the only explanation was environmental stress from warming water. This is a difficult predicament for us farmers trying to bring a year round crop to market; what happens when they go out of season? Can we change the environmental conditions to be more conducive to M. edulis survival i..e. sink them to where the sea water is still cooler in the summer months?
This seems to be my answer to all the mussels’ problems, but it makes the actual farming part a bit more difficult. It requires the perfect amount of flotation, which is dependent on the weight of the long lines, which fluctuates with the growth of the shellfish and fouling that is constantly changing making this a hard technique to master; let alone do on a grand scale. Then when all is said and done your farm is completely submerged and you need to find it and haul it to the surface in order to work on it.
Mussels do great in the late fall through the mid-summer, however, when the water gets around 70 F the larger ones lose byssal strength and start falling off the lines. It is biology and there is still much to learn. Different shellfish species have their ideal temperatures for growth, spawning, and dormancy. Figuring out these cycles is important to husbandry, which is what raising the best crops is all about.
For example, we lost a large number of oysters two years ago because we were bringing return oysters (small ones that we cull out from the markets) out to the farm in sub-zero weather conditions. These oysters were already stressed from being harvested, then we shocked them with the freezing air temps and put them into water with no available algae for them to feed on and recoup. They got stressed out and died and then we got stressed out because they died.
People may have better mechanisms for dealing with stress. I know some people that thrive on stress and use it as an alternative energy source. Personally when the shit hits the fan at work, I tend to skip lunch and work without breaking until the problem is solved, for better or for worse. This has a wearing effect on the body, but I can manage without breaking down for a period of time. Eventually, people will break down if stressed for a long enough time, as we all know, but people have endured a lot more than mussel farming and made it through; think about Shackleton’s voyage to Antarctica and being stuck on the ice while your ship gets crushed in front of your eyes! That would be stressful to say the least.
Due to the heavy lifting requirements and the constant motion of the ocean we put a lot of stress on the FV Thomas D Royal and all the equipment on board. It is a safety concern, so we are constantly thinking of ways to reinforce pressure points and steadily switching out old lines in anticipation of that one time when the stress is too much to bear and something snaps when you really don’t want it to.
In addition, the year round daily use takes a toll on the mechanical devices like: pot haulers, star wheel motors, power washers, all sorts of pumps, diesel engines, and assorted parts, crane parts, tumbler machines, mussel harvesting equipment… pretty much everything we use will be put under stress, and succumb to its fate. So sometimes being a shellfish farmer has nothing to do with the shellfish whatsoever, but it is about being a good mechanic and fixing your equipment.
As you can see stress plays a major role in the daily life out at Salt Water Farms, and it is not only the farmers that bear its burden; although it eventually trickles down to them. Everything working in harmony makes a beautiful symphony, and there are many days when this is the reality. There are also days of Discordia, when it all falls down like dominoes and fixing the problem can take the rest of the day, or longer. Never a dull moment and never an easy ride. Farmers have to be multifaceted multitasking maniacal monkey wrenches in order to be successful.
~ Mason Silkes