After a decade working at Sea Bounty, Lizzie Franklin knows all there is to know about mussel farming. Her unbridled enthusiasm has helped drive the business to new heights and a day doesn't go by that she doesn't revel in the spectacular landscape, people and experiences that have led her here.
Sea Bounty's best catch
After travelling overseas, Lizzie Franklin retreated to her parents' home on the Bellarine Peninsula to ponder her next career move. She stumbled across an interim job book keeping at Sea Bounty which fast grew into a diverse role helping run the business, which ranged from helping out on the boats to running the office, managing PR and marketing and co-ordinating the factory.
Eleven years on and Lizzie is passionate about the business and wouldn't want to be anywhere else. She is also married to mussel farmer, Lance Wiffen, and they now share the role as proprietors of Sea Bounty. The pair is also ecstatic about the recent arrival of their son, Leo.
Lance's father and grandfather were dairy farmers and while Lance branched out to scallop farming and then mussel farming, Lizzie recognises that farming is instinctive for Lance and it runs in his veins. By contrast, it has been a steep learning curve for Lizzie, who grew up in suburban Melbourne. She now appreciates the broad knowledge she has gained of this multifaceted industry.
Portarlington is Australia's mussel farming capital and Sea Bounty harvests up to 10 tonnes of certified organic mussels per day. They are washed and sorted on the boats and shipped all around Australia and overseas.
'I never expected to be a mussel farmer but there is nothing like seeing nature take its course and baby mussels growing in the water – it's incredibly satisfying,' said Lizzie Franklin.
'On some days our office is a boat being escorted by dolphins while the seals play in the kelp. On a magnificent day, it's a pretty special and invigorating place to be. There are other days where the 50km winds are howling and we are at the mercy of the elements. Drought or too much or too little rainfall can result in devastating losses.'
Lizzie's work at Sea Bounty is always diverse and ranges from: managing a staff that ranges from 10-30 depending on the season; working on business sustainability strategies; presenting at the Food and Wine Festival; posting tweets to customers; or taking VIP customers for a tour of the 200-acre farm which is 75 per cent under cultivation.
"It's rewarding to produce something that is not only very economically sustainable but also exceptionally good for you. For a versatile, affordable and nutritious product, it's hard to get much better than mussels," said Lizzie Franklin.
Lizzie is also finding a growing demand to build a tourism component to the business, as people are increasingly interested in exploring where their food comes from and how it is farmed.
She also wants to see mussels feature a bit more regularly on people's dining tables in Australia.
About Sea Bounty
Sea Bounty is a family-owned company that has been involved in the fishing industry for more than 30 years. It has fast become one of Australia's leading mussel growing and processing companies.
Sea Bounty farms mussels at a number of sites in the waters of Port Phillip Bay, serviced by a fleet of specially equipped fishing vessels. A modern processing plant, built in 1997 and located at St Leonards on the Bellarine Peninsula south of Geelong, also operates to the highest standards ensuring Sea Bounty's reputation for top quality product.
Being positioned close to the Port of Melbourne and the international airports of Melbourne and Avalon enables Sea Bounty to supply every state in Australia as well as the Asian markets and the rest of the world on a daily basis, all year round.
The company employs 20 to 30 people at harvesting and 10 at quieter times. The enterprise is certified organic with NASAA, which sets this enterprise apart from others in the area. The extensive and costly on-going certification and audit trail involves processes that occur on the water but also cover packing and handling procedures at the factory.
For further information, please visit the Sea Bounty website.
Lizzie's life experience
Lizzie never imagined this kind of life. She says she started at Sea Bounty as an interim job and it stuck and there is no looking back.
Lizzie grew up in the suburb of Brighton with a working mum who has a passion for food, and her veterinarian father. She finished an Arts Degree and worked a series of jobs – retail at Myer, employee relations at Crown Casino, assisting a designer, and advertising at George Patterson.
After three years working in London, Lizzie returned home by which time her parents had moved to the Bellarine Peninsula and a friend introduced her to Sea Bounty.
Lizzie acknowledges that the farming community offers camaraderie like no other. She believes that the hard working, friendly and easy going nature of the people plays a big part in the every day attraction to farming.
Mussel farming process
Mussels have been farmed for centuries and there are 17 varieties of mussels. The species of mussel used in Sea Bounty's operation is 'Mytilus galioprovincialus', commonly known as the Australian Blue Mussel - the most popular in the world due to its sweet and tender nature. The female meat is orange in colour, while the male is a white/cream colour.
Sea Bounty harvest daily from its organically certified (NASAA) mussel farms in the clean waters of Victoria's coastline, and are delivered live and fresh every morning. The fresh, succulent and tender qualities of the Sea Bounty product result from the deep waters in which they grow and the fast growing cycle that allows them to be harvested between 9 and 18 months of age.
Sea Bounty mussels are 'cultured' in deep water on ropes suspended from the surface. This eliminates the possibility of sand entering the shells.
The mussels spawn between July and October which can cause the meat to be smaller during this period. This spawning leads to settlement of juvenile mussels (referred to as spat) onto specially prepared ropes that Sea Bounty strategically place around Port Phillip Bay in Government approved zones.
These ropes give rise to millions of tiny mussels (spat) that the team 'sock' on to growing ropes in the summer.
Socking is the method used for placing mussels on a rope at the correct density for grow-out. Within six months of socking the fastest growing mussels are ready for harvest. Harvesting is carried out by Sea Bounty's fleet of fishing vessels, which haul the ropes aboard, using specially designed gear.
The mature mussels are stripped from the ropes, before being passed through a declumping/washing/polishing process. They are then graded for size and hand-sorted to remove any broken shells.
Sea Bounty mussels are farmed within designated aquaculture fisheries reserves that are regularly monitored to ensure public health and safety standards.
Aquaculture is currently the fastest growing primary production sector in Australia. While most seafood sectors are fully maximised or declining, mussel aquaculture is growing, and meeting the criteria of environmentally sustainable development (ESD).
This development will help to ensure long-term regional employment and business prospects for the Bellarine Peninsula, both now and into the future. In the wider context, skilled and trainee positions have been created in areas such as boat building, machinery fabrication, packaging and processing.
Mussel farming is considered a relatively benign form of aquaculture as mussels do not require any active feeding by farmers. Mussel farming is considered to be a sustainable farming practice because mussels notoriously have very little adverse effect on the structure of habitats on the seafloor below. Mussels also don't need to be fed; instead, they filter their food from the surrounding waters.
Mussels feed by filtering phytoplankton from the surrounding water, acting as net removers of nutrients, which is generally regarded as being of benefit to the environment.
Sea Bounty has been working with the department to revive this industry, which experienced a slump in the last five years. This was due to lack of wild juvenile mussels (spat) caused by a combination of factors that interfered with breeding, including increased temperatures and salinity, low rainfall and an invasive algal species on the ropes. The number of operators plummeted from 25 to just six.
Fisheries developed the Victorian Shellfish Quality Assurance Program and is overseeing industry development via its facilities at Queenscliff. A major part of this is the world-class mussel hatchery project it has developed with significant financial and material assistance from Sea Bounty and a couple of other operators. The hatchery has already produced more than seven million spat and Sea Bounty expects to double its harvest.
Mussels in foreign cuisine
|Country||Use of mussels|
|Belgium, Netherlands, and France||Consumed with french fries|
|Netherlands||Served fried in batter or breadcrumbs, particularly at take-out food outlets|
|France||Éclade des Moules is a mussel bake that can be found along the beaches of the Bay of Biscay.|
|Italy||Mixed with other seafood or eaten with pasta.|
|Spain||Consumed mostly steam cooked, sometimes boiling white wine, onion and herbs, and served with the remaining water and some lemon.|
|Turkey||Covered with flour and fried or filled with rice and served cold. Usually consumed with alcohol (mostly with raki or beer).|
|Southern China||Cooked in a broth of garlic and fermented black bean.|
|New Zealand||Served in a chilli or garlic-based vinaigrette, processed into fritters and fried, or used as the base for a chowder.|
|India||Prepared with drumsticks, breadfruit or other vegetables, or filled with rice and coconut paste with spices and served hot.|