PDO Conwy Mussels is the name used to describe the common mussel or Mytilus Edulis which grow naturally from the mussel seed beds in the Conwy Estuary in North Wales. The ‘Conwy Mussel’ is a wild mussel and not a farmed mussel and is harvested in the designated area using the traditional method of hand raking during the mussel fishing season which is from 1 September to 30 April.
‘Conwy Mussels’ have a dark hard black or brownish shell which are oval in shape and pointed at one end, they usually have a smooth exterior or have barnacles attached to them depending on the area where they have been raked from. For example in some locations on the river bed the mussels are encased in mud which prohibits the barnacles from attaching themselves, however those which are located on a sandy or rocky part of the estuary are often found with barnacles as they can attach to the shell of the mussel with relative ease.
The mussels can range in size from 4,5 to 10 cm long. By an agreement of the Conwy Mussel Development Group all ‘Conwy Mussels’ are harvested at a minimum of 4,5 cm long at which time they would be at least 2 years of age (rope grown and dredged mussels are harvested younger).
‘Conwy Mussels’ are large, fleshy and meaty with a high meat content and high meat to shell ratio. ‘Conwy Mussels’ are succulent and juicy, well known for their chewy fleshy texture and rich salty taste. Freshly caught ‘Conwy Mussels’ should be odour free.
‘Conwy Mussels’ must grow and be harvested using the ancient Welsh tradition of hand raking during the mussel fishing season in the designated areas of the Conwy Estuary. The mussel fishing season is from 1 September to 30 April.
All ‘Conwy Mussels’ must be purified according to EU Regulations. All bags of Conwy Mussels are kept chilled at a temperature of 1-5 degrees centigrade at the purification unit until they are sold. The shelf life for Conwy Mussels is 5 days.
The designated area applies to the area in which it is authorised that ‘Conwy Mussels’ can be removed. This authorisation applies to the part of Conwy Bay and Estuary which lies below the high water mark of Spring tides and which is enclosed by lines drawn between the points A B and C set out below and the position of the railway bridge as of today over the Conwy River (grid reference N 53 Degrees' 280,278 W 003 Degrees' 823,611) plus the Conwy Quay
A 53 20,341′N 003 52,790′W
B 53 17,461′N 003 54,949′W
C 53 16,672′N 003 53,760′W
The PDO application for ‘Conwy Mussels’ is based upon the attributes of a unique product whose specific characteristics are:
1. Linked to the Conwy Estuary and the unique environment in which the ‘Conwy Mussel’ grows and spends all its life before being harvested
2. Attributed to the traditional method of hand raking which is a traditional method of mussel fishing only located within the designated area and is a skill that has been passed down through generations.
‘Conwy Mussels’ are wild mussels grown from natural seed beds located in the Conwy Estuary. The estuary provides a unique natural habitat for ‘Conwy Mussels’ and it is in this designated area where the ‘Conwy Mussel’ grows and spends all its life before being harvested. The production and mix of plankton on which the mussel feeds, is dependent upon climatic conditions nutrients, biology and mineral content of the Conwy Estuary. Mussels are filter feeders, they feed on microscopic plankton present in the water. It is not that there is a greater amount of plankton in the Conwy Estuary than elsewhere but that there are specific factors provided by the mussel beds being located within the Conwy Estuary which favours the supply of the available food source to the ‘Conwy Mussel’:
— Estuaries are known to have a high level of nutrients (from the fresh water) and therefore greater plankton productivity.
— The Conwy Estuary is deep. Although the depth of the estuary will vary with the tide, the depth of the estuary provides a large volume of water which provides a readily available source of plankton on which the ‘Conwy Mussel’ can feed.
— The deep waters of the Conwy Estuary keeps the body of water generally cooler than shallower water and the sea keeps the estuary waters cooler than the river water higher up the valley. Plankton generally favour cooler waters.
— The ‘Conwy Mussel’ is always submerged and is never exposed. It therefore has a continuous food supply and can feed ‘round the clock’
— The ‘Conwy Mussel’ beds are naturally forming and are located where there is a natural mix of high quality salt and fresh river water which encourages different plankton populations.
— The mussel beds are located in tidal waters in the estuary which provides a good flow of water. A good flow rate of water over the mussel beds enables the mussels to have exposure to a feed source, feed faster and more often.
— As the mussel beds are fished in a sustainable manner they are not overfished, or intensively ‘farmed’ and so there is less competition for food supply.
The availability of food source contributes to ‘Conwy Mussels’ being a large mussel (4,5 to 10 cm long) with a high meat content, in the range of 45-55 % and high meat to shell ratio in the region of 3:5. In addition the age of the mussel and the sustainable method of hand raking contributes to their large size as they are a minimum of 2 years old when harvested. Any hand raked mussels smaller than 4,5 cm would fall through the prongs of the rake. The River Conwy is routinely monitored for quality by the Environment Agency and is recognised as one of the cleanest rivers in Europe and as such has historically undergone numerous directed ecological researches. The very high water quality along the whole length of the river and its catchment area is due to the combination of several factors:
— There is a lack of industry in the area. Traffic and industrial fumes are minimal compared to larger cities, thus water quality is much higher compared to rivers running through major cities.
— The type of farming practiced along the riverbanks is primarily environmentally sympathetic farming, operating riverside buffer zones to minimise phosphate and nitrate run off from any intensive agricultural practices. In addition there are large areas of land adjacent to the Conwy River where woodland is the primary form of land use which again acts as a buffer and minimises run off of pollutants from the surrounding land into the river.
— There is minimal fishing activity in the estuary. The Conwy Estuary is not a busy port and traffic from large boats is minimal which means that the mussel beds are not disturbed by human activity. No dredging or commercial fishing, besides mussel fishing, takes place on the estuary, so the mussel beds remain unharmed by such activities.
The end of the Conwy Estuary runs into the sea. It is in this environment where the salt water from the sea naturally mixes with the fresh water from the River Conwy (approximately half a mile in length) that the ‘Conwy Mussel’ is formed. The deep estuary also causes the water to circulate, as well as changing through each tide. The depth of the estuary will vary with the tide but most mussel beds are covered by at least 30-50 ft. of water at any given time. It is the mixture of the salt water from the sea and the fresh water from up the River Conwy valley plus the fact that the mussels are always growing in deep water (and do not dry out by being exposed at low tide), that contributes to their unique succulent and juicy taste.
‘Conwy Mussels’ are used by many top chefs and regularly appear as a named ingredient on their menus. Many renowned gastronomes and agri-food businesses have demonstrated their preference for these mussels.