In Taranto, mussels and other molluscs have always been cultivated. Oyster farming was already flourishing in the late Roman era and in the Middle Ages. This was thanks to the low levels of salinity present in the Mar Piccolo, which favour the growth of molluscs. In the sixteenth century, the rulers of Taranto established precise rules in the Libro Rosso (Red Book) to avoid the overfishing of coastal lagoons and the damage caused by some fishing equipment: this text was one of the cornerstones of the Kingdom of Italy’s fishing legislation.
The first documents where the “cozze negre” are reported date back to 1525, where the presence of a native species is indicated: Mytilus galloprovincialis (Lamarck 1819) with an almost quadrangular shape and two 5-8 cm valves, a glossy black-purple colour and a curved outward centre, striated shell and rounded on point on its back.
Current farming practices are based on the knowledge that has been handed down from father to son for centuries by the local mussel farmers. Some still use similar structures today to those used in the past centuries, even if most of the traditional installations have been progressively replaced by more modern floating systems which are known as “long line”.
Mar Piccolo is still divided into “piscarie” which are marine plots that are managed by individual fishermen, these are marked out by fences between wooden poles which are fixed to the bottom of the sea. Below the surface of the water the poles are connected to each other by ropes that are made of plant material, these ropes are called “lìbani”.
The mussel larvae live in the waters, after they begin to develop they attach themselves to rope lattices made of plant material that are submerged near the surface of the water, these are known as “stramazzi”. In spring, the ropes look like they are black due to the number of tiny mussels that have accumulated on them. They are attached using filaments known as byssus, which consist of a secretion that, when in contact with water, hardens, forming a strong anchor.
In April, the ropes that are loaded with mussels are cut and hung up vertically at the “ventìe” and the “crociere”, which means that the ropes are arranged inside four poles (spaces that are defined as rooms or frames) while the small mussels grow to a larger size. When the “lìbani” are full of mussels they are called “pergolari”. In the following months, the mussel farmers must thin out the mussels and undertake “sciorinatura” which is the cleaning of the pergolari of marine organisms which can attack or hinder the growth of the mussels, this is done by exposing the pergolari in the air for 24 hours – every 40-50 days – with the ropes full of mussels. The mussels are ready to be sold on the market at around 12-16 months from when the larvae attach to the ropes.
Shellfish farming in Mar Piccolo is an ecosystem service of the basin that offers precious animal proteins from the sea with a very low environmental impact, given that: no extra feed or nutrients need to be added and that simple cultivation techniques are used which do not require energy inputs. Furthermore, mussel farming provides valuable support services such as recycling the excess nutrients present in the waters and offers habitats and shelters to other organisms in its ravines and on its supports, including various species registered in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Because of these reasons it must therefore be protected, promoted and made progressively even more ecological through the use of sustainable techniques and materials.
cultivation systems similar to the ones used by the Ionians. However, at the end of the nineteenth century a dark period began. A military arsenal was constructed, followed by Italsider, and then Ilva, the largest steel mill in Europe, which polluted the water and the environment and threw the sector into a deep crisis.
Despite what happened, this small stretch of inland sea still contains a natural heritage that is one of a kind. The waters have undergone targeted environmental recovery interventions, which guarantee very clean waters, so much so that in 2019, the mussels of Mar Piccolo obtained an “A” classification which allows for the mussels to be sold without being moved into a purification chamber prior to being sold. Following the recovery of the environment, mussel farming has been relaunched as well as the creation of a presidium, which includes 25 mussel farmers who comply with a rigorous production specification that allows for a sustainable aquaculture system.
In addition to defining the characteristics of the Taranto Black Mussel, the specification also recommends sustainable procedures that are to be used in the waters of the Mar Piccolo according to standards that guarantee the quality and traceability of the product. Biodegradable and compostable nets made from Mater-bi are currently used during the cultivation and marketing processes, these have been made available by Novamont on an experimental basis for two years and are a crucial element for the sustainability of the process. Normally, tube shaped plastic nets which are used for mussel farming become one of the most commonly beached pieces of waste that are found on the coasts. These would normally contribute to the increasing mass of non-biodegradable plastic materials in the ecosystem.
The next goal is to obtain DOP certification.
The Presidium is supported by the funds from the “ReMar Piccolo: nature and traditions to recover the sea” project, from the Municipality of Taranto, and by Slow Food Puglia, with the collaboration of ECO.PA.MAR - - “Ecomuseo Palude La Vela and Mar Piccolo” and the “Mar Piccolo Regional Natural Park”.
Taranto Black Mussels are available for sale in spring and summer.