Clusters of mussels, called a bee hive, hang on the line. Divers monitor mussel growth and check for problems such as tangled lines. In order for the growing process to continue smoothly, divers must fix any problems immediately on detection.

Life On the Line

The first offshore mussel farm in the Northeast seeks to revive a struggling industry

Emma Samek, Anh Mai Srisuk, Jake Stout, Camila Verdes

Though Boston is a city where seafood is a cultural staple, mussel cultivation is struggling. To fix this, Ted Maney has created a new way of raising mussels — on an offshore farm. His innovative approach is different from all other farming methods in the Northeast. It’s also highly beneficial as it helps prevent disease and promotes year round supply while being mindful of other species found in this area. Here’s a look at the new ways mussels travel from the ocean to your plate.

Salem State Professor Ted Maney works in the Cat Cove Marine Lab, one of only three aquaculture centers in Massachusetts, specializing in shellfish. As the first step, mussels are grown in the lab's hatchery, later to be put on lines off-shore once they grow large enough.“Before I retire I at least want to get us on the way to making it commercially viable,” Maney says.
A clump of Ectopleura hydroid, a common species that can be found growing on mussel lines, is brought up with young mussels growing inside of them. Ectopleura hydroid does not affect nor interfere in the growth of mussels, it only inhabits the line.
Maney collects samples of zooplankton to compare the primary production of the inshore environment in and around his mussel farm off the coast of Cape Ann. “I don't know how we are going to pay for the labor anymore,” Maney says. “I can't do it by myself.”
A buoy sits on the deck of the boat. It will replace one that has been sabotaged by an unknown person. Maney speculates it was cut by other fishermen or people who oppose aquaculture near a whale migration route. The buoys are important because they indicate where the farm begins and ends.
Captain Bill Lee prepares a line to attach the buoy. Every few years, the National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration (NOAA), awards grants for aquaculture projects such as this one. Maney’s farm was awarded a two-year NAOA grant in 2017. It is unclear how the farm will continue to operate when the grant expires at the end of this year.
Maney holds two young mussels in his hand. Both are still too small to be sold commercially. Mussels grow faster and larger offshore because of cleaner water and the availability of more plankton which is a necessary part of their diet. Currently, 95% of mussels eaten in New England are from Canada. Maney wants to change this.
Legal Sea Foods gave Salem State $100,000 to fund the start up of the farm site. A full build out to commercial scale will require a larger vessel that can stay at sea for 4-5 hours — beyond the Ocean Reporter’s capacity.
Maney assembles a hydrophone which is used to listen to whale migrations. This tool helps monitor activity around the farm to make sure that no whales become entangled in the mussel lines. Additionally, the lines used are of the “break away” type, so no whales get harmed.
From farm to table: Maney says that by next spring he wants to supply Legal Sea Foods with 5,000 pounds of mussels, about a week’s supply.

Produced by students of the Northeastern University School of Journalism. © 2019