Mussel farming has been moving along tremendously in Rhode Island for the last several years. We have progressed from the point of view that mussels are a nuisance on our oyster farm, to the idea that they are a valuable resource that will feed the growing population a healthy, sustainable protein! Here is a bit of insight into what we are doing out on the farm, how we progressed to get where we are today, and what we plan on accomplishing in the months/years ahead.
Since the beginning of our oyster farm, there has been an abundant natural set of mussels that would weigh the gear down, compete for nutrients, and drive the farmers crazy. We started collecting the seed on old rope that we had lying around, and looking into ways to harness the bounty nature provided. It was slow, labor intensive, and we didn’t really know what to do with the seed mussels, but we did know that the Narragansett Bay mussels were some of the best we’d ever tasted.
Visionary Bill Silkes has been in the global mussel network for over a quarter century, and keeps contact with a wide range of “mussel men” by going to conferences around the world. We started to test different methods of mussel grow out that would be practical with the equipment we have. There were 3 different countries with three different approaches to mussel culture that we looked at; Canadian socks, Spanish Rope, and New Zealand continuous loop.
Our neighbors to the north, it seemed, had the best ideas for mussel farming; tie plastic socks filled with seed mussels to a main line and let them grow. The individual socks are hung every couple of feet, and dropped down 10-15 feet into the water. The Spaniards use rafts to hang their rope down and skegs through the rope every 10 feet to keep the mussels from slipping off the line. Both of these methods had their advantages, but the actual harvesting proved very difficult, as well as turning out a clean, final product efficiently. We knew that in order to expand, increasing the volume we produced was mandatory, and minimizing back breaking labor had to happen sooner rather than later. Mechanization seemed like the bees knees, and that is how we settled on New Zealand’s continuous loop approach.
Way down under, half a world away, there is this sophisticated mussel aquaculture industry that has been in development for over thirty years. The “Kiwis” have figured out incredibly efficient ways to collect seed, plant seed, organize farms, optimize space, harvest final product, process final product, and to do it all on a large scale. Through our contact with a rope manufacturer out of Auckland, our eyes have been opened to the New Zealanders style of mussel farming.
We are still at the beginning of what we hope to become, but we are happy to say that we are growing mussels using the NZ equipment, and have been getting better and better results. Over the next several months I will go into the individual pieces of equipment that make our lives easier, as the story of Blue Gold mussels® unfolds.