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How mussels are grown and harvested off Whidbey Island

It's the oldest farm of its kind in North America. #king5evening

COUPEVILLE, Wash. — While most farms are on land, Whidbey Island is home to a farm completely underwater. 

"We call it a farm but really we're mussel shepherds. That's what we really are, right? And we let mother nature do the rest," said Tim Jones, the operations manager of Penn Cove Shellfish.

"This is actually the first and oldest mussel farm in all of North America, and it was started by the Jefferds family. Ian and Rawle Jefferds are now the owners and operators of the farm, but their dad started this in 75."

"We have 42 rafts out here, and we'll have up to 2024 lines on each raft," explained Jones. "In April, we'll hang out our collector lines and all these rafts we put out like 30,000 collector lines this past spring. It takes us a year to get a crop up to size."

Credit: KING 5 Evening
Mussels are pulled up from one of the 42 rafts in Penn Cove

"The harvesting part is pretty neat.” Jones continues. “We got to pull the line out, we have a machine that will help sweep the muscles off the lines, and then it goes through another machine that's going to separate them. And then we're going to go across to that divisive machine which takes the beard off the mussels. It's like a great big giant Norelco; it's a nice clean shave. Then they'll go into our picking house we call it, and with basic quality control they're gonna go across a conveyor line, and we're gonna have people in there making sure there's none broken, all the barnacles are off.”

Credit: KING 5 Evening
Pickers look for broken or bad mussels before they're bagged up

“Because we harvest to order, we are not a fishery. We don't harvest a bunch of mussels and try to sell them. We have salespeople up in the office right now calling all the customers, what do you want for tomorrow, and we're only going to harvest that mussel. Mussels we're going to harvest today are going to be on someone's lunch plate tomorrow in Seattle."

"I like kind of working with nature doing this, you know, we're not fighting it. We're just kind of working alongside and it puts out a really nice product I'm kind of proud of," said Jones.

You can find Penn Cove Shellfish mussels at Pike Place Market and Costco.

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