A mussel recipe from our book The Edinburgh and East Coast Cook Book

A mussel recipe from our book The Glasgow and West Coast Cook Book

Photos taken by Marc Barker and Clair Irwin (https://www.clairirwinphotography.com/)

True North Brew Co. are back with another one of their successful monthly food events and this time it is Mussels Week!

Running until 22nd September and across five venues in Sheffield, each place will create a dish packed full of flavour featuring the best of fresh Scottish mussels.

With this in mind, we took a look into why mussels cultivated in Scotland are the most sustainable form of aquaculture, discovering how fish farming can be harmful to the planet.

Some info on fish farming

Many farmed fish are being kept in water spaces that are just not big enough. Not only is this not good for the welfare of the fish but it also can cause disease between the fish as it spreads quickly. The antibiotics that are used to make them well again stay in their bodies and are present even by the time we come round to eating them. Chemicals in their bodies can also be present from being modified to make them bigger and better for us to eat.  In countries where farms exist within a larger natural water source, problems can arise if these chemically ridden fish escape or accidentally get released into the water, contaminating and destroying natural habitats and fish populations.

Another problem arises from fish food, as many countries take smaller species such as sandeel and sardines from the seas to make a mixture to feed to the fish. Because of the high demand for fish across the world, a lot of fish food needs to be made. This means that we are seeing a shortage of smaller fish in natural waters and the food chain will slowly breakdown, ruining complex ecosystems.

The way that fish are farmed is not the only problem that exists when it comes to preserving and protecting the environment. The ways in which they are caught also has big impacts on our seas and oceans. Methods such as dredging and gillnetting amongst others are not as sustainable as using lines and poles as unwanted fish are caught and not released back into the water. Habitats are also destroyed or harmed from the equipment used.

Mussel farming in Scotland

Scotland is a great place for cultivating mussels and shellfish as they need clean, clear water and the irregular coastline of Scotland provides ideal sites for their cultivation. The vast majority of mussels are farmed by using vertical ropes that are suspended in the sea by using horizontal ropes and buoys. The mussels naturally settle there and are kept for a few years until they are grown enough to pick out and eat.

This type of farming is very sustainable, as mussels don’t need to be fed and the ropes in the sea have very little impact on the surrounding habitat. Mussels are filter feeders which mean they eat plankton and small sea creatures which are floating around in the water and therefore are basically filtering the water. The use of ropes to cultivate mussels is also better than other ways of catching them, as they are usually caught by dredging—a method of fishing that involves dragging a metal cage along the sea floor which ultimately disrupts and damages it.

Out of all the fish farming options out there, it seems that mussel farming is one of the most sustainable and environmentally sound, with the mussel’s welfare not being impeded on, the immediate environment not being affected and no food needing to be provided to the mussel.

So next time you decide to tuck in to a nice piece fish, think about where and how that fish came to be on your plate. Always opt for fish that have been line or pole caught and not farmed in an unhealthy way (or of course go for a fresh Scottish mussel!) so we can protect the future of the planet.

For more info check out True North’s Facebook page or website and for even more content you can find them in our publications The Sheffield Cook Book and The Sheffield Cook Book: Second Helpings.

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For some delicious Scottish mussel recipes check out our publications:

The Edinburgh and East Coast Cook Book

The Glasgow and West Coast Cook Book