Mediterranean Mussel

The Science

Nature’s bungee cords! Byssus threads, which mussels use to attach themselves to rocks, are stretchy but also strong so are being explored for uses such as body armor, architectural engineering, and surgical sutures.

The Fishery

New aquaculture technology involves producing triploid or tetraploid mussels which are functionally sterile, thereby eliminating the risk of wild populations establishing. 

The Seafood

Pale white mussel meat indicates a male, and a warmer, more orangey color indicates a female.

The Science

Taxonomic description

  • Also known as the black mussel because the shell can be dark blue or brown to an almost black color, relatively smooth.
  • Two shells are equal, each with a rounded and a slightly bent edge 
  • Can grow up to 15 cm (6”) but is typically found to grow between 5-8 cm (2-3”) [3].


  • Native to the Mediterranean coastline, but found around the world due to unintentional transport of the larvae and adults in ballast water and hull fouling communities of ships traveling overseas for shipping and trade; and intentional introductions for aquaculture [3].

Life history

  • Fast growing with high reproductive output
  • Can attain 7 cm within its first year at favorable sites [3]. 
  • Can reproduce multiple times per year and reach sexual maturity in 1-2 years
  • Reproduces through broadcast spawning, or releasing gametes into the water column [1]
  • Fertilized eggs develop into free-swimming larvae, which then attach to rocks.


  • Found mostly on temperate sheltered and exposed rocky shores; attaches to rocks using byssal threads.
  • Extremely tolerant to environmental changes [3].
  • Mostly found in the intertidal zone where there are intermediate levels of wave exposure. [3]
  • Able to hybridize with sister taxa, including M. trossulus (bay mussel) which is native in California.
  • Feeds by filtering particles through gills
  • Main predators include sea stars & gulls.

The Fishery

Carlsbad Aquafarm

Seasonal availability

  • Available year-round

Managing authority

  • Growing methods & product are regulated by federal, state & local agencies: Army Corps of Engineers (lead), NOAA, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, US. Dept of Agriculture, Food & Drug Administration, California Dept. of Public Health Services, California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, County Dept of Public Health) [5].
  • Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association is an industry-based organization that includes & represents growers along the U.S. Pacific coast in establishing science-based farming practices, & ensuring environmental protection, shellfish safety, & support with regulatory, technology & marketing updates. 

Gear type

  • Grown off bottom in the water column on vertical lines of rope supported by buoys. When it is time to harvest, ropes are lifted using booms over a boat deck and the mussel is collected. [6]
  • No fertilizers, chemicals or antibiotics added-food is naturally occurring phytoplankton.

Status of the fishery

  • Most U.S. farms collect mussel larvae from wild populations and transfer them to the farm for grow-out to adults [9]. This has little effect on wild populations due to the mussel’s high reproductive rates.
  • Recent technology has allowed culturing of larvae on the farm [5]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • Aquaculture reduces the pressure on local natural populations and limits the need for imported seafood.
  • The presence of mussel and racks create habitat for marine plants and animals, and improve water quality by the mussel filtering algae and particulates. Some benthic disturbance results from shading and organic accumulations beneath racks [5]
  • Introduced species that is tolerant of a wide-range of conditions allowing it to thrive in local coastal ecosystems if released as larvae or adults [5, 8]

The Seafood

powerplantop, flikr creative commons

Edible portions

  • Entire contents of the shell

Culinary uses

  • Best fresh, but may be frozen
  • Generally cooked whole, for example, steamed until the shell opens. 
  • Add mussel to a pan containing favorite ingredients, such as olive oil, garlic, lemon, wine, and red peppers, over medium heat. Once open and cooked, it’s ready to eat!
  • Other recipes include: paella, seafood couscous, Mediterranean fettuccine, cioppino [13]

Description of meat

  • Much meatier than most other mussels
  • Delicate flavor with a rich, buttery texture 

Seasonal availability

  • Available farm fresh in San Diego year-round [11]

Nutritional information  

Toxicity report

  • Farmed mussels are controlled and monitored for safety with no reported contaminants.
  • Collecting mussel from local bays is not recommended; biotoxin levels are often unmonitored and depend on quickly fluctuating water quality and algal blooms of the bay. Many of these toxins cannot be cleared with freezing or cooking [12]


1. Van Erkom Schurink, C. & Griffiths, C.L. 1991. A comparison of reproductive cycles and reproductive output in four southern African mussel species. Marine Ecology Progress Series 76: 123–134.

2. "Mediterranean Mussel Mytilus Galloprovincialis." Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Web.

3. GISD. 2012. Global Invasive Species Database - Mytilus galloprovincialis -Available from


5. FishWatch. 2013. Blue mussel. NOAA FishWatch U.S. Seafood Facts.

6. Carlsbad Aquafarm. Prod. Brian Robles and Cindy Kendrick. Green-Scene, 2013. YouTube.

7. Lockwood, B.L., G.N. Somero. 2011. Invasive and Native Blue Mussels (genus Mytilus) on the California Coast: The Role of Physiology in a Biological Invasion. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 400: 167-174. 

8. Shinen JS, Morgan SG. 2009. Mechanisms of invasion resistance: competition among intertidal mussels promotes establishment of invasive species and displacement of native species. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 383: 187-197.

9. European Commission. 2013. Fisheries.

10. SELF Nutrition Data. 2013. Mollusks, mussel, blue, cooked, moist heat. <>

11. Richards, John B., and George A. Trevelyan. "Culture of Mussels." Trans. California's Living Marine Resources: A Status Report. California Department of Fish and Game, 2001. Web. 10 Aug. 2013. <>.

12. "Mediterranean Mussels." FishChoice Inc., n.d. Web. 10 Aug 2013.

13. This is a great source for all types of recipes. 

 “Mediterranean Mussel Recipes.” Yummly.