This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Blue mussels bring in big bucks and keep us safe! More after this —
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Mussels are not only a gourmet favorite – they also detect the first clues of contaminants in water. Blue mussels show barely a blip on Alaska’s wild or farmed shellfish scene. State figures show just 1,573 pounds of mussels were produced by two south central growers, valued at $6,642. Canada is the largest supplier of farmed blue mussels to the US, providing almost 28 million pounds in 2010. At $1.30 per pound, that adds up to nearly $36.5 million dollars. New Zealand’s green mussel industry tops $1 billion annually … Remarkably, for more than 25 years, mussels have been used to monitor chemical and biological contaminants at nearly 300 coastal sites across the U.S. – including Prince William Sound and Kachemak Bay near Homer.

Cut: Sometimes it’s very difficult to try and find very low concentrations of toxics in the water supply. Measuring water requires incredible precision and expense.

Ray RaLonde is an Alaska Sea Grant aquaculture specialist.

Cut: 07 Mussels are one of our fastest filter feeders and in the process, whatever toxic material gets in the water, likely gets into the algae and is picked up by the mussels. So Cut: 09 so if you want to find something in the water supply sampling mussels and looking for toxicants in mussels is an extremely good way to do it.

Mussels were used to quell fears about disease and water safety after hurricane Katrina. RaLonde says they also can be used to clean up toxic materials.

Cut: If you deposit mussels down there they will pull those toxicants out of the systems and then you just dispose of the mussels and you have a cleanup program. 14

Alaskans face some difficulties in growing wild or farmed mussels. Wild ones tend to consume emulsified silt particles that form tiny pearls and make the meats taste sandy. RaLonde says farmed mussels seem to transmit a genetic blood disease that causes crops to fail. Still, as with Alaska oysters, the demand for mussels is so high, Alaska could sell all it can produce.

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Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, serving Alaska’s fishing communities since 1910. – In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.