I climbed into a small boat, travelling a short distance before stepping onto an anchored boat on Killary Fjord. I was surrounded by deep blue waters dotted with lines of gray buoys flowing with the tides. Mountains surrounded the fjord, and everywhere I looked were picturesque scenes. Simon, the mussel farmer, held up infographics explaining the process of raising mussels. It takes approximately 4-5 weeks for shellfish eggs to develop into larvae. The gray buoys floating in the water held large ropes. Larvae attach themselves to the ropes, remaining there until they become fully-grown–a two year process. In use for eighteen years, the ropes were thick with mud and grime. I could picture tiny larvae attaching themselves to the threads of the rope to finish the rest of their development.
To the right of Simon was a machine. Inviting us to gather around, he went to the small cabin of the boat, flipping a switch. Out of the water came a series of ropes, completely filled with fully grown mussels. He detached one and brought it over to the machine, turning it on. Simon raked several mussels off the ropes to demonstrate how the machine worked, mussels spinning through brushes before dumping out into a large bin. Turning the machine off, we examined the contents of the ropes.
Simon explained that other sea life settle onto the ropes as the mussels grow. These included ghost shrimp, which resembled a praying mantis of the sea, as well as sea squirts– thick translucent worm-looking creatures that squirted water out at us. Those creatures posed no harm to the mussels, but Simon said starfish larva often attach to the ropes. When the starfish fully develop they cover the mussel until it suffocates and opens up, eating it.
Every morning Simon harvests one ton of mussels. He is incredibly committed to his work, which was demonstrated not only through the knowledge and care that he puts into the farm, but also through dedication to his customers. Simon told us about toxins that can impact the mussels. Water samples are taken every Monday to test the water for toxins, but the results aren’t processed until Thursday. If Simon is feeling unsure about the water, he will do a taste test of the mussels himself to make sure that he isn’t selling tainted shellfish to his customers, whom would become sick upon consumption. We were all shocked when he shared this, as he said that a few times he had gotten sick when completing his quality control check. I can’t think of higher commitment to serving quality shellfish than putting your health at risk to make your customers happy.
After learning about harvesting shellfish, we climbed back into the boat and returned to shore, where Simon’s wife and fellow shellfish lover, Kate, had prepared mussels for us. A bowl of bright orange mussels sat before me. Having never tried one before, I was hesitant. Some others in the group showed me the “ropes” of eating mussels. I dived in, not to be disappointed.