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Bouctouche Bay

Maritime oysters have long been a favourite treat for global seafood lovers, but the traditional method of growing and harvesting them can be backbreaking work — until now, thanks to a collaborative effort in Bouctouche Bay, NB.

Normally, oysters take up to seven years to reach maturity and many die nestled in the cold winter mud.

But using a new method, oyster farmers in Southeast New Brunswick communities are successfully growing a market-sized oyster in as little as three years ― with 90 percent of the yield coming in at the highest fancy grade quality.

It all started 12 years ago when Serge LeBlanc, a young biologist and oyster producer, approached a local aquaculture supply company with some ideas about growing oysters.

“He would come in and say, ‘I think this might work,’ explains Bouctouche Bay Industries Ltd. president Rhéal Savoie. “So, I’d give him some wire mesh and Styrofoam floats and we’d get working.”

Soon, after many meetings and collaboration with marine biologists, commercial oystermen, equipment manufacturers and designers, an initial prototype was realized.

Today, the company’s OysterGro™ product ― a system of wire cages floating on two large plastic pontoons – suspends the oysters just below the surface of the ocean where the water is warm and plankton, the oyster’s food source, is more plentiful.

Back in Bouctouche Bay, many locals are benefitting from the opportunities the new system is providing: new jobs, the diversification of the fisheries sector in coastal communities and economic benefits from sales revenues. 

At the same time, they’re also trumpeting the unique quality and advantages of their Maritime oysters, which, unlike their southern cousins, hibernate for several months ― great news for exporters who want to ship live oysters to markets all around the world. They can travel around the world for three months if kept cool and damp.

Because being a small company can sometimes feel isolating, Rhéal says that ACOA’s assistance has extended far beyond funding.

“They’ve helped me hire outside people who look at everything and ask, ‘Are we going in the right direction? What tools do we need?’”

These days, Rhéal and his team are continually modifying their designs to improve efficiency.

“My philosophy has always been to have my ear to the ground, to talk to the oyster growers. If I get six or seven growers with the same problem, I see that as an opportunity to find a solution.”

It just goes to show how a little innovative thinking and traditional cooperation can both strengthen a local community and deliver up a fresh, delectable treat for seafood lovers everywhere.

Published September 13, 2013