For most Namibians, access to fresh mussels and other seafood is extremely limited and highly dependent on the ability to self-harvest. Fresh seafood is also very expensive compared to other proteins available in retail stores.
Namibia’s lucrative seafood industry exports most local seafood but recreational harvesting is allowed for most edible species of fish and shellfish. The Namibian government regulates the recreational harvesting of fish, molluscs and crustaceans to promote sustainability.
Bi-value molluscs such as mussels and oysters are not currently under threat and can be harvested legally. Each recreational harvester is allowed 50 black, brown or ribbed mussels per day. White mussels must not be able to pass through a ring with an inner diameter of 38 mm and each harvester is allowed a daily quota of 25.
Limpets (25 per person per day), periwinkles (25 per person per day), prawns (5 per person per day) and brown seaweed (10 kgs per day) are also among the regulated species.
Humans living close to the Namibian coast consumed mussels and possibly limpets for at least 1,000 years as is evident from shells found at archaeological sites. It appears thus that we stopped utilizing these for sustenance in more modern times.
In theory, at least, it should be possible to stay alive and even do quite well, on a diet of free, fresh seafood. As long as it is harvested in accordance with the country’s regulatory framework.
It is possible that many people avoid seafood because they lack the know-how to cook or prepare it. Others may well avoid shellfish in fear of potential contamination and shellfish poisoning.
Types of Mussels
The Namibian coast has two types of mussels available to recreational harvesters. Both the black (Choromytilus meridionalis) and white (Donax serra) varieties are available to harvest. Harvesters must adhere to the legal bag limits.
There is currently only one company that farms black mussels commercially in the Walvis Bay Aquaculture Production Area. They use the long rope method. Mussels attach themselves to long ropes hanging from floating platforms. Because they are filter feeders, so they do not require feeding. There is little if any damage to the marine environment. Bi-valves can enhance water quality by clarifying water. They also help to reduce concentrations of organic matter and nutrients in the water column.
This is no commercial production or harvesting of white mussels. Small quantities are frozen and sold as bait to recreational fishermen.
Oysters are the only other bi-valve that are farmed commercially along the Namibian coast.
Bivalves are filter feeders that are highly sensitive to the quality of their marine environment. They can concentrate bacteria, viruses and other potentially dangerous biological contaminants. These pose a potential threat to consumers’ health. Bi-valves feed on microscopic plants that can produce potent biotoxins that cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP). Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) increases toxin levels in bi-valves. It is a topic that attracts a lot of attention in academic research.
All shellfish are monitored by the Namibian Standards Institute (NSI) to ensure that consumers are safe. The NSI applies international standards in their toxicology scans. This includes meeting the European Union (EU) requirements that regulate the production and marketing of molluscs in the EU. The Government of Namibia issues public warnings when molluscs are unsafe to eat.
Cooking with mussels
Mussels are versatile ingredients, and easy to prepare. Simplicity is the best. Steamed with white wine or cream or grilled with garlic and butter is more than enough. Fresh mussels require very little preparation and very little cooking. They are best when eaten straight from the shell. Or in a soup. It is hard to beat fresh mussels in a sauce with pasta.
Black mussels require little cleaning other than removing the beards and giving them a good scrub. Eat only live specimens when using freshly harvested mussels. Before cooking, give them a good tap and discard those that do not close. Discard all those that remain closed after cooking.
Take care when cooking white mussels. They need to be purged to remove the sand from their digestive systems. This is done by allowing them to sit in seawater for a few hours or even a day until they discarded all sand. Then remove the ‘bellies’. But make sure that they remain alive; dead mussels don’t purge. Discard all unopened mussels after cooking.