The extinction and endangered status of freshwater mussels due to environmental degradation and over-fishing in the mid-west has been widely documented over the last decade. One thing that is new in this sad story is the steady decline and threatened extinction of the saltwater mussels of the Eastern seaboard.

On a recent visit to Prince Edward Island, (PEI) Canada, besides enjoying many meals of delicious seafood, I learned that a huge mussel farm was just sold and will be converted to oyster farming. So it’s not just the environment, it is also the economics of cultivating shellfish at play here.

Wild mussel decline threatens cultivated mussel farms

While most, if not all commercial mussels are now cultivated, the industry relies on the seed from wild mussels to replenish the crop. As the wild populationdecline, the mussel farms stretching along the East Coast of the North Atlantic into Canada face the threat to their industry. In France, the die-off has caused production to plummet by up to 95 percent this year with no clear evidence of what is killing them.

Mussels are among the most environmentally beneficial crops because they actually filter the water they live in to make it cleaner. They are also the most sustainable of all seafood products because they don’t pollute the waters they live in.

They are inexpensive, with two pound bags selling for $4-$6 each, and so high in protein, vitamins, and antioxidants that they are touted as a“super food.” Plus, they are easy to cook and lend themselves to a wide variety of flavors.

Climate change contributes to mollusk decline

During the “warmest summer on record” according to climatologists, tons of dead mussels washed ashore on Long Island.

Recent studies conclude that warming waters in the Gulf of Maine are contributing to the decline. Reports show that wild harvesting and rising water temperatures have reduced the native mussel population by 60% in the past four decades. That’s bad news for farms depending on wild seed for their harvest and bad news for the seafood lovers looking for a sustainable and reasonably priced healthy meal.

Contagious cancer strikes the west coast mussels

All is not quiet on the West Coast, either. Canadian biologists have found a contagious form of cancer that is spreading through the bivalve (mussels, clams, cockles) population of the Pacific Northwest. “The evidence indicates that the tumor cells themselves are contagious – that they can spread from one claim to another in the ocean,” says biochemist and immunologist Stephen Goff of Columbia University. The university of British Columbia scientists found that this is the first contagious cancer that can spread between species. A fact they found “beyond surprising.”

So if you really like to sit down to a huge plate of mussels – and who among us doesn’t – do it now.

They might not be around later.

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