According to the PEI Shellfish Association website, the number of oyster fishers and the numbers of pounds landed have steadily increased. In 1970, there were about 100 active fishers. By 2012, about 800 active fishers landed about 7,000,000 pounds of oysters.
Kenneth Arsenault is an oyster grower and harvester, and is the new President of the PEI Shellfish Association.
Kenneth has been employed in various industries. He worked on the construction of the Confederation Bridge, operated equipment in the Alberta oil patch, and worked as both a technician and foreman on many wind turbine farms across Canada.
Finally came the day when Kenneth was able to invest in an industry that would eventually provide him income on PEI and allow him to be closer to his family. His previous experience harvesting oysters gave Kenneth a strong background in the industry, and he decided to grow his own. His leases sit in waters along the town of Cascumpec off Gordon’s Wharf.
Kenneth has been involved in the industry for 20 years. “You need a great deal of patience and the ability to work long days, which includes strenuous labour,” says Kenneth. “Growing a mature oyster takes up to three years. But it is all worth it once you get established.”
Oyster farmers lease areas of local rivers from the federal government. In the spring and summer months, work consists of collecting the oyster larvae, separating the seedlings, grading the oysters, and cleaning and flipping the cages, which are heavy and sometimes covered in green leafy seaweed.
“When they begin to grow, I divide them and place so many in each oyster cage. The cages float in the water and the oysters continue to grow.”
In the fall, harvest begins. Each oyster is sold individually, and is priced according to size, ranging from 35 cents to 55 cents each. Kenneth sells his oysters to various processors. “Once you are into the industry a few years, you can begin to support yourself.”
Harvesting requires long hours from dawn till dusk from fall until December. When the water begins to freeze, all oyster cages are set on the river bed, where they will wait out the winter.
“PEI oysters are in demand worldwide for their unique flavor and texture, and presentation is very important.”
Oysters are good for the environment, as they continuously filter the water in which they grow. They obtain their food by taking in phytoplankton or small bits of algae suspended in the water.
Alongside Kenneth’s and his partner’s leases, a floating dock is used to grade their product and house some of their equipment. The dock has a roofed area which provides some shelter from the hot sun and the cold rain.
Along the water’s edge, you can see plenty of leases and floating cages holding thousands of growing shellfish. “We are a tight knit group, we oyster growers,” says Kenneth. “We work side by side all year, and we respect and support one another.”
As President of the PEI Shellfish Association and a fisher himself, Kenneth promotes workplace safety and Department of Fisheries and Oceans regulations for the industry. All boat operators are required to take various training courses provided by the Holland College Marine Centre, such as:
- Small Vessel Operator course
- MED A1
- Marine First Aid
The objective of the PEI Shellfish Association is to develop the shell fishing industry and protect the interest of oyster fishers on PEI.
For more information, visit www.naturallywild.ca.