Blue Mussel

Mytilus edulis

Illustration of a Blue Mussel

Also Known As

  • Edible mussel

U.S. farmed Blue mussels are a smart seafood choice because they are sustainably grown and harvested under U.S. state and federal regulations.

Environmental Impact

Mussels provide net environmental benefits by removing excess nutrients and improving water quality.


Growing mussels requires no feed – they filter phytoplankton directly from the water column.

Farming Methods

Mussels can be grown in tidal areas or the open ocean. They can be grown directly on the beach bottom or suspended in the water column.

Human Health

Shellfish toxins and bacteria occur naturally in the environment and can cause food-borne illnesses. State and federal regulations require monitoring of farmed mussels to ensure they are safe to eat.

  • Availability

    Available year-round.

  • Source

    Tidal areas or offshore, mostly in New England, Washington and California.

  • Taste

    Tender meat and sweet flavor.

  • Health Benefits

    Mussels are low in saturated fat and excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

U.S. Farming


  • Permitting for shellfish aquaculture is governed by federal, state and local governments.
  • The federal agencies involved are NOAA, the Army Corps of Engineers, Fish & Wildlife Service, US Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Coast Guard.
  • Shellfish farms must adhere to federal regulations including those in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation & Management Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act.
  • Information on shellfish aquaculture permitting can be found in the Shellfish Growers Guide.
  • A variety of shellfish aquaculture tools, including maps and models, are available to coastal managers.

Farming Methods

  • Farmers collect larval mussels (spat) from wild populations.
  • Mature mussel grow-out:
    • On-bottom – mussels are seeded on sea bottom to form beds.
    • Off-bottom – mussels are grown in the water column using longline (rope), raft or bouchot methods (on ropes wrapped around marine pilings or poles).


  • In 2016 the United States produced 894,000 pounds of mussels, valued at $10.48 million.

The Science

Environmental Considerations

  • Habitat:
    • Mussel farming has a benign ecological footprint, with little disturbance of sediments or aquatic vegetation during grow-out.
    • Some mussel harvesting methods involve dredging, but long-term effects on the environment are rare.
  • Feeds:
    • Mussels do not need to be fed because they filter their food from the water column.

Ecosystem Services‎

  • Water quality improvements:
    • Mussels are filter-feeders, removing algae, organic matter and excess nutrients from the water column as they grow and improving water quality.
    • When mussels are harvested, excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, are removed from the ecosystem.
  • Providing habitat:
    • Mussels and the gear used to farm them provide habitat for marine organisms.
    • Mussel beds stabilize coastal sediments and help minimize impacts from storm surges.

Human Health

  • Shellfish toxins:
    • Shellfish poisoning is an illness that can occur from eating contaminated shellfish.
    • Shellfish can assimilate the toxins that cause shellfish poisoning from the algae on which they feed.
    • Early warning systems exist to detect harmful algal blooms that produce toxins.
    • New technologies, such as the Environmental Sample Processor, provide near real-time detection of harmful algal species.
    • For more information on identification, prevention and monitoring of harmful algal blooms, read about the NOAA Ocean Service Harmful Algal Bloom programs.
  • Pathogenic bacteria:
    • The bacteria Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp) and Vibrio vulnificus (Vv) occur naturally in the environment and can cause food-borne illness from consuming raw shellfish.
    • Ingestion of undercooked or raw shellfish with Vp or Vv can lead to gastrointestinal illness.
  • Public health officials monitor shellfish from growing areas to ensure they are safe to eat.

Physical Description

  • Range from 2-4 inches at maturity, though can grow up to 8 inches.
  • The shell is black, blue-black or brown, tear-drop shaped and has concentric lines marking the outside; the inner shell is white.
  • The ‘beard’ is the byssal threads allowing the mussel to attach to substrate.


  • Are of the shellfish family. Like oysters, clams and scallops they are bivalve mollusks, and have a hinged shell.
  • Adults are sessile – they stay in one place – and inhabit both intertidal and subtidal areas.
  • Have fast growth rates and high reproduction rates.
  • First mature as males, then later develop female reproductive capabilities.
  • Each female can produce between 50 and 200 million eggs during a spawning event.


  • Growth & reproduction
  • Ocean acidification
    • Acidification causes a number of changes in water chemistry that may be stressful to shellfish.
    • Ocean acidification and its impacts on shellfish are being investigated by NOAA and other labs. For more information, visit NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program.

Last updated: 03/27/2019