Face of the Week: Matthew Moretti | Blogs

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Face of the Week: Matthew Moretti
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Face of the Week: Matthew Moretti

 

Matthew Moretti is a 28-year-old entrepreneur of Portland, Maine. For the past year, Matthew has been running a local mussel farming business which he co-owns with his father.  The pair purchased the 10+ year old Casco Bay staple, Bangs Island Mussels, and they have big plans for the company’s future.  Matthew draws on his biology degree from Bates College and his masters degree in marine biology from Northeastern University in shaping the blossoming company’s future.  To augment his education, Matthew collaborated on fisheries research at The Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland and worked on an oyster farm on the Damariscotta River.

Personally, I know very little about cultivating mussels. When I think of it I can only recall times as a child when my friends and I walked along the rocks on the coast of Maine and found clusters of mussels surrounded by barnacles in the shallow waters.  Matthew insists that these wild mussels of my childhood are worlds apart from the clean, delicate, and plump mussels that he grows.   

It was a balmy morning on the 18th of January when I assisted Matthew with delivering hundreds of pounds of gleaming Bangs Island Mussels to the Harbor Fish Market on Custom House Warf in Portland.  Harbor Fish Market is one of a select few wholesalers who receive weekly deliveries from Matthew’s company.  These well-known mussels are grown on rafts located off of Bangs Island in Casco Bay, hence the name.  Before the mussels are delivered to customers they are cleaned and graded by special machines.  The final products are polished and shiny mussels packed in characteristic black mesh bags.   

The “raft culture” method of growing mussels is a concept most commonly utilized in Spain.   It consists of a raft with horizontal beams. Mussels are hung in cotton, biodegradable “socks” from these beams. The socks are attached to ropes that hang suspended in the water column, never on the bottom. In the sock, the mussels slowly attach themselves to one another through natural fibrous beards called bysal threads. Matthew described these clusters of socks jokingly as “mussel sausages”. They hang from the rafts for roughly 18 months in 50 feet of water until they are the appropriate size for market.  As opposed to mussels grown on the ocean floor, or in the  case of my childhood, picked off the rocks, when grown in “mussel sausages”, Matthew’s mussels are free of hard-bodied ingestions and are sure to be a clean, grit free delicacy.

An ongoing challenge on the mussel farm other than the occasional bad weather has been to keep the ever-hungry eider ducks from eating all of Matthew profits.  “We currently employ a system of large exclusion nets to keep the ducks out of the rafts without hurting them” says Matthew, but he admits that nothing is perfect and “Eider ducks love mussels almost as much as people”.  The net system was developed more than ten years ago but still has some kinks to work out. 

A recent innovation for Matthew’s company is the introduction of kelp as another cultured species.  Matthew is growing kelp alongside mussels in the hopes that each species will benefit from the other and grow more quickly.  Combined, the two species will benefit the local environment because kelp uptake excess nutrients in the water like nitrogen and phosphorous and mussels filter particular matter.  The result is clearer water flowing away from the mussel/kelp farm than water flowing in. 

Matthew hopes to continue the expansion of his business with plans for greatly increased production in the near future.  He also intends to continue progress toward increased sustainability on the farm with the use of locally produced biodiesel in his boats and more environmentally friendly product packaging.  Matthew is highly conscious of the environment and he believes that the aquaculture of the future lies in integrated and environmentally friendly aquaculture practices such as his combined kelp and mussel culture. 

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