Wander British Columbia: See How Seafood Lands on Your Plate
Tracy Ellen Beard – Wander With Wonder
January 4, 2018
Seafood lovers abound in every corner of the world. As populations continue to grow, seafood farmers and purveyors in British Columbia, Canada, continually increase efforts to keep up with growing demands. Some of the finest quality sustainable seafood in the world comes from Baynes Sound and the waters surrounding Vancouver Island. Fanny Bay Oysters, Manatee Holdings, and BC Salmon Farmers Association in British Columbia continue to use safe and healthy farming practices to assist nature in staying ahead of the snowballing requests for seafood today.
Fanny Bay Oysters
Taylor Shellfish Farms owns Fanny Bay Oysters in addition to other business lines in Washington, California, and Hawaii. Using innovative growing techniques, quality processing, and safety testing while harvesting, Fanny Bay Oysters exports Pacific oysters and Manila clams worldwide.
Touring Fanny Bay Oysters
In June 2017, I attended the BC Shellfish Festival in Comox Valley where I tasted some of the freshest most astounding seafood ever. Chefs from all over Canada, the US, and even India came to compete and cook locally sourced seafood. While visiting Vancouver Island, I was fortunate to tour Fanny Bay Oysters where General Manager Brian Yip educated our group about where Fanny Bay oysters originate, their growth process, and how they eventually land on someone’s plate.
Brian explained that egg fertilization begins in the warm waters near Kona, Hawaii. The developing larvae float around until attaching to clean older shells, and then plant personnel ship these young oysters, known as spats, to the nutrient-rich protected waters at Fanny Bay in British Columbia. Oysters continue to grow for another 12 to 18 months, on the land and in the sea, before employees harvest and sell the oysters either shucked or in the shell. Brian said, “About one-third of Fanny Bay oysters go to the US, one-third stay in Canada, and one-third get shipped to Asia.”
In 2017, Fanny Bay opened a new business in Vancouver, B.C., with a full-service restaurant, shellfish market, and future plans to be the primary seafood seller to Vancouver restaurants.
Oyster shucking is an art, and individuals from all over the world compete to see who shucks the fastest and cleanest. In May 2017 staff from Fanny Bay brought oysters to China and met up with professional shuckers from around the world. The two groups gathered for a shucking contest on top of the Great Wall of China. In May 2018, Fanny Bay Oysters along with Taylor Shellfish Farms will host the Oyster Opening World Cup in China.
Savoring the Oysters
Oyster connoisseurs consider these little gems a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. Whether prepared as Oysters Rockefeller with a rich butter and herb sauce topped with toasted bread crumbs, barbequed with bacon, or served raw on the half shell with lemon and cocktail sauce, oyster lovers relish the fresh taste of the sea.
Eric Gant owns and operates Manatee Holdings on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Gant, the world-renowned authority on geoduck clam aquaculture, opened his own shellfish hatchery in 2000. The growing demand for healthy protein-rich food drives the sustainable aquaculture community to responsibly produce farm-raised seafood while simultaneously rebuilding native species populations.
Gant is passionate about helping to meet the growing demand for geoducks, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers. He speaks out for the industry enlightening people about the collapse of fisheries and the demise of thirty-six different species in Canada alone. Gant strongly believes that sea urchins and other sea creatures will succumb to extinction if something does not change immediately. He says, “If you push a species too far, you can’t bring it back!”
Manatee Holdings helps to meet the world’s seafood demand. Thousands of people enjoy dining on geoducks, sea urchins and sea cucumbers, but the highest demand is within Asian cultures.
Great Tasting Geoduck
Geoduck is extremely daunting in appearance. Michael ingeniously sliced the meat very thin, tossed it with well-known vegetables, and served it in a flavorful citrus marinade. The result, a ceviche that pleased the eye, delighted the nose, and tantalized the taste buds.
While on Vancouver, I was privileged to eat geoduck prepared by Executive Chef E. Michael Reidt from Miami, Florida. Michael cooked at the International Buyers Reception and was the last chef to choose his protein.
Geoduck was one of two proteins left available, and although Michael had never prepared it before, he accepted the challenge. Factoring in his flight from Florida to British Columbia, he opted to create a dish that would be quick to make and determined that he would incorporate some familiar ingredients to entice attendees.
British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association
During my stay, I was fortunate to visit the Hardwicke Island salmon farm. I bused out to the marina at Sayward, B.C., with a group from Comox Valley and then took a water taxi to the farm. The ride through the Seymour Narrows was stunning. Jeremy Dunn, the Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association joined us on the bus. He shared that the association is the fourth largest producer of farm-raised salmon in the world generating more than $1.1 billion towards the B.C. economy and providing jobs for more than 5,000 people. These farmers work diligently to keep up with the ever-increasing requests for salmon, and studies show that more than 50% of all seafood sold in the world comes from a farm.
Jeremy informed a colleague and me that B.C. farms use brood stock from wild Atlantic salmon. Jeremy told us that, “Pacific salmon are more wild and aggressive and don’t take to farming.” B.C. farmers mimic techniques used in Norway where years of experience have increased their success in salmon farming.
The Salmon Life Cycle
Farming begins when salmon lay their eggs, and then those eggs are harvested. Over the next 18 months the small fish grow in a tank-based system, and once they reach the smolt phase in their life cycle, farmers move them from fresh water to salty water. At this point workers sedate and vaccinate the fish for endemic pathogens, and then they transfer them via a tanker truck to a well boat. The salmon live out their remaining years here until harvest. This entire process takes about three years.
The farm at Hardwicke Island is the size of two-football fields consisting of floating sea cages and a large warehouse with comfortable living quarters on the second floor. The netted cages are 90-feet deep with a ratio of 1 to 2 percent fish to 98 to 99 percent water. The nets, made of polyethylene, completely encircle each cage keeping out dangerous predators like seals, sea lion, and sea otters. These predators can consume hundreds of fish in a relatively short amount of time.
Life at Hardwicke Island
Salmon at the farms eat a specially designed pellet developed from nutrient-rich food. The pellets, ejected out of a rotating pipe, spray into the air, and the salmon jump up to catch them like a dog would jump for a treat. Cameras monitor the pens from above and below the waterline giving employees an ability to monitor all salmon activity in the pens.
Employees at the farm work for one week and are off the next. Living on this little island has its pros and cons. The smell from the fish pellets is not particularly pleasant, and the hum from the feeders is a bit loud, but the views of the ocean and surrounding mountains are truly spectacular.
Salmon and other seafood are a great source of Omega 3s, are low in calories, and are a healthy addition to the everyday diet. Thanks to aquaculture farmers in British Columbia, the world has an abundance of seafood options, so get out your cookbooks and serve some farm-raised seafood on your dinner plate tonight!
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with meals and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.