Violet Mihasi doesn’t hide her concern while working on her barge on a salt lagoon in the southern tip of Albania, her mussels clinging to ropes dangled in the water.
The mussel farmer fears another poor harvest this year of the particularly fleshy mussel, dubbed the “Queen of Butrint”, which is suffocating as temperatures rise.
The warmer waters of the Butrint Lagoon on the Ionian coast, not far from the Greek border, also encourage parasites that starve the once-thriving bivalves of oxygen.
To rid the mussels of the microorganisms, the farmers pull the ropes out of the water, allowing them to “breathe” on the surface for two days before plunging them back in, Mihasi says.
Nevertheless, harvests have still significantly dropped over the last three decades.
In 1990, some 6,000 tonnes of mussels were pulled from the ropes dangling from the barges, according to agriculture ministry figures.
Nowadays, in a good year, the haul for the lagoon’s around 60 mussel farmers is barely half that.
And last year, it dropped to 2,000 tonnes, when water temperatures were stuck at more than 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit).
Half of the young mussels, known as spat, which were immersed on the ropes at the start of the summer, died in 2018.
In the three previous years, the devastation was even worse, at closer to 90 percent, one of the Butrint mussel farmers told AFP.
The deadly temperature threshold has already been reached this summer, although July storms brought some relief.
“When the heatwave suffocates the mussels… everything is lost,” says Mihasi, in her fifties, with a sun-weathered face.