Bellarine Tast Trail



Sea Bounty Mussels in Portarlington

Portarlington is Australia's mussel farming capital and Sea Bounty's Lance Wiffen and Lizzie Franklin are the industry's king and queen. Up to 10 tonnes of mussels are harvested a day here; they are washed and sorted on the boats and shipped all around Australia and even overseas. Come to the source!

As one of the cheapest forms of fresh seafood available, you really can't go wrong with mussels. They are high in protein, low in fat and contain lots of healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Sea Bounty has organic certification from NAASA.

Australian blue mussels (Mytilus galioprovinicalus) are the most popular kind in the world because of their sweet and tender nature. Female meat is orange in colour while males have white or cream flesh.

Portarlington mussels are sustainably farmed - mussel farming is a relatively benign form of aquaculture as mussels don't require active feeding by farmers - they filter phytoplankton from the water, keeping it clean and benefiting the environment. The clean waters of Port Phillip Bay are monitored fortnightly for bacteria and algae to ensure the quality of the mussels.

Sea Bounty is a family-owned company operating for 30 years, with Lance Wiffen at the helm for the last 20. They now farm 27 hectares in the bay, much larger areas than the other local operators.

Their mussels are grown on ropes suspended in deep water (hence there's no sand in the shells). The ropes are hoisted up and run through special machines that strip the mussels, which are then cleaned and graded, sorted and boxed on the boat before being sent to their modern processing plant at St Leonards.

Sea Bounty has been working with Department of Primary Industries to revive this industry, which experienced a slump in recent years due to lack of wild juvenile mussels (spat). A combination of factors had interfered with breeding, including increased temperatures and salinity, low rainfall and an invasive algal species on the ropes. The number of operators plummeted from 25 to just six.

DPI Fisheries developed the Victorian Shellfish Quality Assurance Program and and is overseeing industry development via its facilities at Queenscliff. A major part of this is the world-class mussel hatchery project, it has developed with significant financial and material assistance from Sea Bounty and a couple of other operators.

Also on Sea Bounty's horizon is the introduction of excursions for tourists keen to see the harvesting process close up. Watch this space!

Lizzie Franklin explains that it's a fallacy to avoid mussels that aren't open. "If you have a bad one, you will smell it. It's easy to identify." She told Sarah Hudson, of the Weekly Times, that you should cook your mussels first before adding to a sauce, to ensure all the mussel 'liquor' (salty water) does not overpower your sauce. Cook up some pasta and add them to a tomato and garlic sauce and enjoy.

"The best summer recipe," Lizzie says, "is to steam them open on the barbecue and when they are open spoon in butter, lemon juice and a wad of parsley."

If you're quite obsessed with mussels, Bellarine Brewing Co. has a treat in store for you! Among their beer range is Mussel Stout, a flavoursome stout brewed with Portarlington's Australian Blue Mussels. Classic!