One typically overcast August day back in 2008, I was walking along the usually deserted Whiteford Sands when vehicles of all descriptions sped across the beach and into the distance. Tractors, trailers and four-wheel drive cars, laden with men and equipment, rushed across the sand to get to the boulder outcrops that surround the old iron lighthouse at Whiteford Point. Being curious, I made a bee-line in the same direction.
As I got closer, I could see that everyone was congregating at the fast-receding water’s edge where an extreme low tide was revealing extensive beds of young mussels growing wild. By the time I arrived on the scene it was one of absolute frenzied activity, with people using short-handled rakes to scrape the young mussels from their attachments into framed net bags as quickly as possible. This involved back-breaking work standing in the shallow water pools left by the ebbing tide, frantically trying to retrieve as much of the black harvest as possible before the tide turned. The contents of each full net were then transferred to large polypropylene builders bags on the rocks.
The mussels that they were harvesting were not large enough to be eaten. They were being gathered to supply the insatiable demand for shellfish in the UK and European markets. I was told by one of the mussel fishermen that the small mussels would be sold to localities, such as Poole Harbour in Dorset, where they would be grown on in more nutrient-rich waters than the Loughor Estuary – and fattened-up for sale to shops and restaurants.
COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2012
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