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Myles mussels in on shellfish
By Jemima Laing
BBC Devon

Myles Blood Smyth
Myles Blood Smyth with some of his team

Exmouth fisherman Myles Blood Smyth is passionate about mussels. So it comes as something of a surprise to learn that he has never actually eaten one.

"I'm not keen on shellfish," he laughed. "I just don't fancy them!"

But those who do fancy some of the 100 tonnes of mussels Myles produces each year include diners at top London restaurants including Le Gavroche.

And his sustainable methods have been recently recognised by BBC Radio 4's Food and Farming Awards.

Exmouth Mussels
Mussel seed ready for re-laying

"I've been obsessed with fishing since I was nine-years-old, I've never wanted to do anything else."

And sustainability is at the heart of what Myles and his team at The Exmouth Mussel Company does on the River Exe.

"Every autumn we compete with the starfish and the winter storms to save as much mussel seed as we can," he said.

How Myles gets his mussels
Mussel seed is gathered and laid in beds safe within the estuary where it is left to mature for up to two years
Once the mussels are full size they are harvested with a hovering water-jet elevator
They are then put into purification tanks in a unit on Exmouth pier
After 42 hours they are ready for sale

"This is then laid in beds safe within the estuary on land rented from Lord Devon.

"Over the following two years, as these beds mature, there is a massive positive effect on all the organisms that live in and benefit from a diverse habitat such as a mussel bed.

"For instance we've seen the cormorant population on the estuary increase greatly since we've started doing what we do."

Myles is producing between 100 and 150 tonnes of mussels a year which all pass thorough purification tanks in the unit on Exmouth pier.

Forty-two hours later, and with a bit of polishing, they are ready for chefs up and down the land as well as ending up in the fish shop Myles runs at the Greendale Farm Shop near Farringdon.

But the fact that we have just had 50 days of straight rain has been "horrendous" for the mussels, Myles says.

"The mussels haven't grown at all in the last 50 days, it's been too much rain and not enough sunlight and too much freshwater - what mussels want is lots of hot weather and algae.

"All our processes are sequential, there are always new beds being sown to replace mature ones being harvested.

"It's the whole ethos of carving a sustainable niche in an environment you protect and enhance.

The catch returning to shore
The catch is returned to shore

"I can earn a living at it but it's great not to be interfering so much with nature."

And he also enjoys the camaraderie between himself and his team.

"There is so much mickey-taking, but also a lot of loyalty and respect and I just like the atmosphere and ambience."

So what about the recognition of being a finalist in the Best Food Producer category in the prestigious BBC Radio 4 Food & Farming Awards 2009?

"I love Radio 4, I've been listening to it for 30 years so to be rung up by a producer and to be told we were finalists was great."

And Myles, who has spent his life involved in fishing in one way or the other, wouldn't even contemplate doing anything else.

"Making the transition from fisherman to mussel farmer was the best decision I ever made.

"When I have to go to get bits for the boats and I see people sat in offices they just look so pale and so disinterested, I wouldn't want to swap places," said Myles.

"Not for anything."




SEE ALSO
In pictures: Autumnwatch recipe
20 Oct 09 |  Nature & Outdoors
Company sells mussels to Brussels
01 Jul 09 |  North East/N Isles

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