CASCO BAY (NECN)-- Bangs Island Mussels are known for their quality: a high shell-to-meat ratio, and fresh from the water taste. Co-owner Matt Moretti has been farming them in Maine for nearly a decade, and while they are on pace to have a record-setting year, his farms had been showing some concerning signs.
"Two years ago, we had a bit of a setback," Moretti said. "We had a mortality event. Probably twenty percent were actually just dying on the line. And we were dumbfounded."
To understand the science behind the situation, Bangs Island Mussels asked the University of New England to do the heavy lifting.
UNE Research Scientist Adam St. Gelais and graduate student Connor Jones have been collecting data on the floating mussel farms. Their environmental monitors measure ocean temperature, salinity, light, and other qualities.
"Mussels are at the whim of the environment," explained St. Gelais.
They collect samples of mussels, crack them open at their lab, take measurements and study them at the cellular level.
While their research is ongoing, St. Gelais has some ideas about the cause of the die-off.
"That summer where he experienced that unusual crop loss was unusually hot and warm and it was dry," said St. Gelais. "Mussels invest their energy for reproduction in the summertime. If they spawn in the summertime [and the temperatures are too high], there's not a lot of food in the water and the warm water causes high metabolisms. They simply don't have the energy to recover... which results in a bunch of mussels dying."
The same conditions — hot, and dry — have been present this summer, and Moretti says he is seeing some 5-10 percent of his mussels dying again.
"Hopefully there are ways we can mitigate this in the future," Moretti said.
UNE will continue to study the mussel farm until 2019.