Observations on recent mass mortality events of marine mussels in the Oosterschelde, the Netherlands

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Two mass mortality events (MMEs) of marine mussels that took place in the Oosterschelde, the Netherlands—the first in 2015/2016 and the second in 2019—both severely affected mussel production. The current study presents our observations on the onset and course of both MMEs and discusses probable putative causes. The two MMEs displayed a distinct course of events. The first event started in November 2015 with high mortality rates on culture plots, which remained elevated until the autumn of 2016. Approximately 40–50% of mussels from all age classes were lost on culture plots and 100% were lost from wild seed beds. The second event started in April–May 2019 and continued until the end of July, with mortality ranging from 20 to 100%, again from all age classes. Culture areas other than the Oosterschelde and other shellfish species were not affected. Histological and bacteriological screening produced no evidence for common pathogens or pollution as a primary mortality factor and there is no indication of abnormal environmental conditions preceding or during the events. We hypothesize that a cumulation of stressors results in weakening of the mussels and in elevated mortality rates. In 2019, this cumulation of stressors could be high spawning activities (an unusual high concentration of mussel larvae was found in April) that resulted in very low condition from April to June, a Phaeocystis bloom in April to May that prevented a quick recovery, and the development of granulocytomas that were found in up to 60 to 70% of live mussels as a consequence of cumulative stress. Although no (single) putative causes could be identified, this study contributes to the knowledge on MMEs in mussels and fits in a wider and disturbing trend on mortality events in shellfish.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1737-1751
JournalAquaculture International
Issue number4
Early online date11 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Aquaculture
  • Climate change
  • Diseases
  • HABs
  • Mass mortality event (MME)
  • Shellfish


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