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Mussel man needs muscle.

ASKED if he makes a decent living, Steve Oldale gives a wry laugh and exclaims: "Do I heck."

Mr Oldale is the only person licensed to harvest wild mussels between the Wash and Aberdeen. From September to April he can be found plying his backbreaking trade in the waters around Holy Island off the north Northumberland coast.

It's cold and brutal work.

But Mr Oldale, who runs his one-man operation, Northumberland Mussels, from Spittal, Berwick, is adamant he can't think of a better job. "All I'm looking to get is more money for what I do."Because he can only provide small orders - and can't always guarantee repeat business because of the erratic nature of mussel harvesting - he often feels he is being thrown around like the flotsam he watches being washed up on the seashore.

The 53-year-old says rope grown mussels are no substitute for harvested. "For around four days harvested mussels will retain their unique salty sea taste," he says. "After that they taste just like any other mussel. But that salty taste is one to savour. And the quality of the meat is far superior."

Mr Oldale sells wholesale to the likes of Ridley's Fish & Game at Acomb near Hexham, and direct at farmers' markets in Darlington, Tynemouth, Hexham, Morpeth, Alnwick, Kelso and Peebles. He would like to extend his mussel harvesting season - if he could find the money to buy the chilling equipment he needs to see him through the warmer months.

At the moment he is harvesting around three-and-a-half tonnes of mussels a year but is licensed to take 10 tonnes.

He said: "Farmers' markets are great, but I have to pay for my pitch and for transport. It would be good if more restaurants took the mussels, but they want them at the trade rate.

"If I could find one restaurant in Newcastle prepared to take 50 kilos a week it would be a great flagship for the chef's reputation and would make all the difference to me.

"All I want is to make a fair living. People like me need to be supported.

"If we aren't, then mussel harvesting around here will die out."


MAKING A PLEA TO RESTAURANTS: Steve Oldale, licensed to harvest wild mussels. Picture: Simon Hobson ref: 01055872
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 14, 2008
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