Cord-grown mussels gain ground in France

Published on
October 1, 2014

There is no doubt that the French love mussels. They can be found on sale everywhere, from supermarket counters to fishmongers, high end restaurants to small cafes. The French also know a thing or two about these molluscs, and are discerning about the type they prefer, understanding regional difference in terms of production method, species, size, texture and taste. Both Mytilus galloprovincialis and Mytilus edulis are grown and enjoyed in France.

Moules sauvage and moules de parc, which are grown on the seabed, are at the cheaper end of the scale, while moules de bouchot are the most sought after. Grown on long poles placed upright in the seabed and exposed to the elements twice a day, these mussels are small, have a long shelf-life, and are prized as the sweetest tasting.   They also have official recognition, with the “Moules de bouchot de la baie du Mont-Saint-Michel” boasting AOC status, (controlled designation of origin), whilst others conform to a national “certificat de conformité” that sets strict production criteria and a minimum meat content of 24 percent.

The latest mussels to hit the market are moules de corde, which are grown on longlines suspended in the ocean. These are just starting to gain in popularity, thanks in part to a new company, Kys Marine, based in Camaret in Brittany.

“We started the farm just a few years ago but are already producing 700 metric tons (MT) per year and have ambitious plans to increase volume by taking our production further offshore, where there is space to expand,” said marketing director Corinne Ragenaut.

“It has been an uphill struggle persuading seafood buyers to buy rope-grown mussels in place of buchot mussels, but we have put a lot of effort into getting a top quality product, and this is now paying off, with over 100 customers regularly taking our product,” she added.

Corrine sells to supermarket chains including Intermarché, direct to restaurants and to wholesalers. She said keeping the customer happy was a top priority for the business, which she runs with business partner Christophe Callewaert.

Asked whether their mussels had been affected by the high mortality rates experienced by growers in Western France this year, where the harvest is down around 90 percent, Corrine explained that they had been lucky.

“We have certainly noticed higher mortality this year, but it is manageable and nothing like the scale of many other mussel farmers, and we have picked up business because of their misfortune,” she said. “The worrying thing is that scientists still cannot say exactly what has caused the problems, but it is being blamed on bad weather and high run-off, bringing pollution from the land, and to the mussels being weakened by the bacterium Vibrio splendidus.”

Mussel growers estimate that around 10,000 MT of mussels, equivalent to one fifth of national production have been lost, with a value of more than EUR 20 million. Corinne and Christophe started off in business growing oysters Crassostrea gigas), and are still heavily involved in the industry. Their latest venture, aimed at securing supplies for the future and avoiding the purchase of potentially diseased stock, is an oyster hatchery based in a former spiny lobster vivier in Camaret. This is still in the development stage, but already producing excellent seed. A floating upwelling nursery system in the harbor means that a close eye can be kept on the growing shellfish, before it is transferred to the ongrowing areas in Normandy and Southern Brittany.

Oysters are ongrown in a suspended system the pair designed themselves, which produces rounded shells with deep cups, and full meats. “Our oysters look different from those traditionally grown in France, and as with the mussels, we concentrate on producing a very high quality product, “she explained. “This has enabled us to target new markets not traditionally sought by French growers, and we now have a high demand for our oysters in Hong Kong,” Corrine said.

The next stage for the innovative pair is to hatch and ongrow the native oyster, Ostrea edulis, and Corinne hopes that they will be able to start this project next year, once the hatchery is fully operational. “We always have plans, but to make them work properly, you have to take one step at a time,” she said.

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