Mussels have been part of peoples’ diet for over 20,000 years, and in the last year sales of Scottish mussels have increased by over 20%. In Landward Nick Nairn finds out why Scottish mussels are just so popular.
According to legend, mussels have been cultivated in Europe since 1235 when Patrick Walton, an Irish sailor shipwrecked on the French coast, hung up nets in order to catch fish and found that mussels attaching themselves to the poles supporting the nets. He got the idea to align poles to collect the little blighters and so invented the first mussel beds.
The Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG)
The SSMG is a co-op of 28 farmers, over the last year they have seen a 24% increase in sales. The group supplies 80% of the UK retail market and they sell live mussels for supermarket fish counters and valued added products for the shelves
The increase in sales is due to greater demand for healthy foods. They have worked hard to get the message across that mussels have all sorts of good stuff in them like selenium, and also that they are a really good convenient food which fits with peoples’ busy lifestyles..
The mussel farming process is incredibly sustainable. A mussel ‘farm’ consists of a series of buoys with 10 metre ropes hanging down. During the mussel ‘spate’ baby mussels float downstream attach them to rope and then grow on that rope. Three years later the farm has a crop to harvest. It’s a very natural process. The mussels are filter feeder. They are not fed and no chemicals are introduced to the loch /sea.
SSMG mussels are never exposed to the sea bed, that means unlike their continental cousins they are never gritty. In the continent huge volumes of mussels are produced, 3500 tonnes per week compared to Scotland’s output of 2900 tonnes per year. To satisfy this huge demand most of the mussels are dredged from the sea bed.
This is a fairly invasive process with starfish and all sorts being caught up in the dredging process. But because of the lower demand in Scotland it can be satisfied by rope grown mussels. A few years ago Tesco took the SSMG product off the shelves and replaced them with continental dredged product. The numerous complaints they received about the grittiness of the mussels convinced them to go back to SSMG.
Page first published on Thursday 6th September 2007
Page last updated on Tuesday 17th June 2008