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The Mussel and Oyster Industry

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Mussels are fast becoming South Africa's biggest source of income from marine products and the industry is gaining a considerable export market for itself. Saldanha Bay is the growth point of this industry, with four established mussel farms and more in the planning stages.

The fertile waters of the Benguela Current, with its high concentrations of plankton, make Saldanha Bay an excellent natural breeding-ground for mussels. The mussels are grown on ropes suspended vertically in the water from floats. Before the ropes are let down, seed mussels packed into tubes of soluble netting and attached to them. The ropes are then left undisturbed in the nutrient-rich waters of the bay until the mussels reach the required marketable size of about 60mm. This usually takes from four to six months.

musselfarmAfter the fully-grown mussels have been removed from the water, they are prepared for the market. A large percentage is steamed and then frozen. A certain proportion is canned, mainly for export.

The main variety of mussel cultivated is the European blue mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis. This variety, which originates from the Mediterranean, only started to proliferate in Saldanha Bay in the last decade or two, probably after being transported here on the bottoms of the many ore carriers and oil tankers entering the harbour to load or unload their cargoes.


In 1984 the Seafarm concern imported its first consignment of seed oysters from Whitstable in the United Kingdom for cultivation in Saldanha Bay. Today, stocks of seed oysters are imported from as far afield as Chile, Canada and the US, to be raised for a market which has a preference for oysters weighing between 65 g and 120 g.

The earliest oyster farms were founded in Knysna in 1948 but recently West Coast oysters have shown the potential to become market leaders. Seed oysters of 6 mm are ready for the market within 12 months. The high plankton levels found in the waters of Saldanha Bay give the oysters a delicate and distinctive flavour

Oysters need daily care for the first two months. After this, they are tended weekly and for the last three months they receive attention only once a month. Annual production is growing steadliy and markets outside the country's borders are being investigated. Oysters are regularly airfreighted to Gauteng, where they arrive within 12 hours of being harvested.

Author and photograph, 'Mussel Farm' - Cornel Truter, West Coast Tourist Guide

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