Prince Edward Island (PEI) – the smallest province of Canada – boasts a rich oyster harvesting history spanning over two centuries. Renowned for its unique marine treasures and lush environment, PEI holds its oyster close to its heart. Islanders and visitors alike relish in the unparalleled culinary experience offered by the delectable mollusks. This post will guide you through the fascinating history of oyster farming on this picturesque island.
The Birth of an Industry (1700-1800s)
The native Mi’kmaq people had been harvesting oysters for sustenance long before Europeans arrived on the coast of PEI. However, it wasn’t until the British gained control over the island – then known as St. John’s – in 1763 that oyster fishing truly began to flourish. British settlers quickly recognized the abundance and commercial value of the sumptuous shellfish.
In the mid-1800s, ’tonging’ was the primary method used by oyster fishers – a practice that involved wrangling oysters from the ocean floor with long-handled metal tongs. The oysters were then sold in local markets, a testament to the vital role they played within coastal communities.
Innovations in Oyster (1900s)
As demand for PEI’s oysters grew, the island’s oyster-farming techniques developed in tandem. During the early 1900s, the French Point Oyster Company pioneered innovative cultivation methods. They introduced ‘oyster cultch’ – a term for the rocky, shell-laden base that promotes oyster growth – which led to an increase in oyster production.
Following World War II, oyster farmers experimented with different farming systems, such as suspended growing techniques, to improve cultivation further. By the late 20th century, international appreciation of PEI’s oysters had significantly grown, contributing to the expansion of the island’s export market.
Modern Oyster Harvesting: Sustainability and Best Practices
PEI’s modern oyster harvesting ethos revolves around sustainability and preserving the natural environment. Careful management of oyster populations ensures that future generations can continue to enjoy this delicious seafood. Moreover, the island has strict regulations in place to protect oyster habitat quality, prevent over-harvesting, and maintain water quality.
The Prince Edward Island Shellfish Association (PEISA) manages the PEI Oyster Enhancement Program in which seven million oyster where spread in PEI estuaries in 2022. The PEISA is made of of wild oyster fishers and has a symbiotic relationship with oyster farms who (Island Oyster Growers Group) who contribute spat and in some-cases fresh oyster from the wild oyster fisheries.
Today, various oyster farming methods are used, including off-bottom (floating) and bottom (bag) cultivation as well as the environmentally friendly tonging method used for all wild oyster. The wild oyster come in all shapes and sizes and are the key Living Shorelines, providing reef habitats, preventing erosion, filtering water for PEI estuaries. These practices allow farmers to precisely regulate growth and monitor harvests more efficiently, resulting in consistently high-quality oysters prized for their extraordinary taste and texture.
The Island’s Oyster Varieties
PEI boasts a range of delightful oyster varieties, delighting both locals and tourists alike. Visitors can taste the likes of Colville Bay, Malpeque, and Raspberry Point oysters, each with a distinct taste and texture indicative of their respective marine environments. While some prefer the briny, robust flavors of the Colville Bay oysters, others seek out the more delicate, sweet taste offered by the Malpeque variety – the choice is yours to explore!
Demonstrating a steadfast commitment to sustainability, innovation, and tradition, Prince Edward Island has become synonymous with exquisite oyster farming. The journey of the island’s oysters is brimming with historical and cultural depth, enhancing the enjoyment of each mouth-watering morsel. By relishing in PEI’s oysters, you are partaking in a rich and delectable heritage, offering a culinary experience that transcends mere sustenance.