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California mussels
Calfornia mussels mixed in with gooseneck and thatched barnacles
Featured Shellfish - Mussels


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Mussels

The mussel - Incredible, but it’s edible

By: Terry Link

mussels
mussels

Mussels are coastal mollusks living in intertidal and subtidal areas. They are found living in clusters connected to some solid base by means of byssal threads. The byssal secretion resembles glue and hardens in water to form hold-down threads. Mussels are comparatively stationary, but can move short distances by throwing threads in the direction it wishes to go and then contracting its byssal muscles which draws the animal forward.

Oregon has two species which are eaten. The blue or bay mussel (Mytilus trossulus) is common to estuarine pilings and rocks. It has a smooth blue-black or olive colored shell which is about 2 ½ inches long. The California or surf mussel (Mytilus californianus) is found in large beds along rocky open coastline. This species has a black or brown shell with conspicuous radiating ribs. It reaches lengths of up to six inches.

Each female mussel produces several million eggs annually. Spawning occurs during summer months. The eggs hatch into free-swimming larvae which eventually settle down and find shelter among the seaweed holdfasts. A shell develops and the tiny mussel attaches to its surroundings by byssal threads. Growth is rapid during the first year but slows rapidly there after. Surf mussels may reach a length of 3 ½ inches the first year.

Peak yields of meat occur in the winter. Time of peak may be affected by food availability, light intensity, wave action, exposure to air and population density. Harvesting mussels that spawn in transit should be avoided. Mussels are sensitive to handling and may die, thus they may spoil quickly. Users may find 2 ½ inch to 4 inch mussels taken from the lowest tide mark are the best eating. Flavor may vary as mussels can be affected by the odor of their surroundings. Harvesters must be aware that mussels are filter feeders which at times may contain high concentrations of saxitoxins causing paralytic shellfish poisoning. Public warnings are issued if a danger is present. Public health monitors for the dangers.

Mussels have been enjoyed for many centuries. In Europe there is a large demand for mussels. The initial supply came from intertidal areas but due to increased demand, Mussel farming has developed. Users are reminded when removing mussels that many intertidal animals also use the area, so don’t damage the habitat more than necessary. Refrain from pulling excess mussels off and leaving them lay.

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