On the Water with Bangs Island Mussels
Since moving to Maine in 2009, I've been beyond impressed by the availability of such quality ingredients. As a chef, I have yet to live anywhere else that provides me such variety. Not only does Maine have a rising young farming community, but the foraging, fishing, and hunting opportunities make it a noteworthy state as well. Although our growing season may be short lived, there is ample opportunity to harvest you dinner during the winter, with ice fishing being a go-to sport and tradition for many throughout the state.
Back around the new year, I made it a personal goal to get involved with more food production opportunities. As I continue to grow and evolve as a chef, I want to get out in the field and see how some of the food I purchase and serve myself, family and clients is produced. So, I started reaching out to different companies around the state and connected with Matt Moretti, owner of Bangs Island Mussels.
After a brief phone call, I prepared myself to spend a day working with the crew "seeding" mussels. Before last week, I had no idea what that term meant, but I would soon find out and get a hands-on experience.
I woke early, 4:30 am to be exact, and quickly scampered down the stairs to turn on a pot of water. Coffee and chaga tea were going to be a must to A refreshing mussel salad with pickled beets on snowy April day.
Yesterday was spent down in Casco Bay, working with @bangsislandmussels. I made it a goal for the upcoming year to spend more time "in the field" with various food producers. From foragers to fisherman, I want learn more about where and how some of the food I prepare for my family and my clients is produced and grateful for owner Matt and his team for letting me spend the day with them. After a 5am departure from home, I greeted the crew and headed out on the hour long boat ride to the work site which consisted of a barge and several sets of floating beams that held the mussels. Our day consisted of "seeding" blue mussels (Mytilus edulis), which I learned first hand how labor intensive this work is. The first part of the work day involved pulling up ropes, removing the mussels then separated them by size. Although the temps were in the low 30's, the work quickly warmed me up and made the day outdoors quite comfortable. We took lunch then moved on to sending the mussels back into the water via a biodegradable netting that held them in place until they latch on to the ropes within a month or so. After cleaning up the barge, we got back into the boat and headed back to shore.
There are many cases where farming fish is less then ideal. The feed, the genetics, and poor management usually end up with a more destructive product in the long run. Farmed shellfish on the other hand is quite sustainable and the end product is quite good. While I enjoy harvesting mussels in the wild, the amount of grit is off putting at times. Rope grown mussels tend to be quite clean, plump, and juicy. This was truly a great experience for me and looking forward to the next adventure!