by Menai Holidays
Food and Drink
Both oysters and mussels are farmed in the intertidal waters of the Menai Strait, between Anglesey and mainland Wales. The waters here are said to be amongst the cleanest in Britain and have been designated a Special Area of Conservation.
In fact, the waters are so unadulterated that sea salt harvested here is allowed to carry the Soil Association’s organic certification. It’s the constant supply of fresh food, delivered by the fierce tidal currents that rage through here twice a day, that give Menai mussels collected on the Strait their unique flavour.
Mussels on the Strait are farmed on these intertidal seabeds for a variety of reasons, including taste. Mussels cultivated in this way are known to have more flavour than those grown using alternative arrangements – and I can certainly assent to that! Plus, the exposure to the air at low-tide means the mussels have time to build strong adductor muscles and shells. Basically, this produces hearty shellfish that can cope with lengthier stretches out of the water, resulting in fewer occurrences of shell breakage and a better shelf life.
Not only is the sea around here pure and clean, but your conscience can be too. You can tuck into Anglesey’s Menai mussels without compunction as, remarkably for aquaculture, this type of farming requires no inputs, chemicals, feed or fertilisers.
Generally, traditional dredge mussel fisheries are declining in the UK, with a gradual move away from the exploitative dredging of wild beds, and a move towards the type of mussel cultivation practised on the Menai Strait.
The common/blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) is a filter-feeding bivalve mollusc commonly found all around the UK’s coasts, as well as in sea lochs and coastal estuaries. You may have seen them close to foreshore, attached to rocks or man-made structures such as piers, where they tend to be small with thick shells. They grow more slowly in these positions because they’re exposed to the air for longer, and therefore can’t feed as often.
To start the cultivation process small mussels, known as seed, are collected from the wild. These are then ‘transplanted’ to on-growing areas. This usually means attaching them to ropes (or similar) that are suspended from longlines or rafts on the surface. This makes use of the mussels capability to attach themselves to such ‘substrates’.
The reason people ‘farm’ mussels is because wild mussel or ‘seed’ beds tend to be transitory, often disappearing after storms. They can also be totally wiped-out by predators such as starfish. Growing them in more sheltered and managed areas means the mussel farmer gets a much better return. On top of this, it’s a far less disruptive way of procuring mussels than dredging, yet more productive than collecting wild mussels by hand.
Furthermore, the presence of a mussel or oyster farm can actually be positive for the local marine environment, with the beds forming important habitats. Not only do they support an array of marine creatures, but land-lovers and birdlife too such as cormorants, curlews, oystercatchers, egrets, herons, plovers, gulls, and even crows. I told you could enjoy your meal conscience free!
If you’re close to the Strait at the right time you might even catch a crafty crow carrying its ‘meal’ to the roads alongside, where they’re known to drop them from above – which breaks the shell! Apparently, seagulls have been seen attempting to copy this ingenious feat, but never get their mussels further than the mud!
You can obviously still forage for wild mussels yourselves, they’re pretty prevalent on the rocks all around Anglesey and North Wales. However, I’ve always found them to be a little gritty – but fun to collect and cook.
For a delicious home-cooked mussels meal try:
Or let the experts indulge your tastebuds in one of Anglesey’s fantastic seafood restaurants:
Why not stay in one of our Anglesey cottages and discover Menai’s mussels for yourself. We also have a collection of holiday cottages by the beach that are perfect for exploring the North Wales coast.
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