Tuesday, 14 June 2011

VFM welcomes first ever fresh shellfish vendor

Floating rafts used to suspend oyster trays

After some lengthy negotiations with local health authorities in Vancouver and Vancouver Island,  we're happy to announce that Sawmill Bay Shellfish Co. made it's debut at Trout Lake and Kitsilano markets last weekend. The first seafood vendor to gain approval to vend fresh (as opposed to frozen) shellfish at VFM, the folks at Sawmill traveled in from Read Island (between Cortez and Quadra Is.) to offer oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops to excited market shoppers. "We're somewhere between fishers and farmers", says owner Stephen Pocock of his family run business. The Pococks have two locations on Read Island (pop. 50!) where they raise oysters and clams in the pristine, glacier-fed inlets of some of the world's cleanest waters.

Can you explain to us how shellfish production works?  As shellfish farmers we buy seed (baby) oysters, clams, and mussels from a hatchery and look after them until ready to harvest. We're helped by the fact that shellfish get their food directly from the water they are grown in, so no need for haymaking or fertilizer! Also, we cannot feed or medicate the shellfish so they're all natural and ocean-fed.

What made you pursue shellfish farming?   We've been land farmers all of our working lives up until 4 years ago when we made the change over to shellfish farming. Our love of the ocean and the coastal climate along, with our passion for looking after growing creatures were major factors in our choice to pursue this kind of farming.

Is Read Is. known for it's seafood production, or is your business quite unique to the area?   We have a major advantage over other shellfish farmers with the pristine and remote environment where we raise our stock. Read Is. has a year-round population of 50 and none of these residents live near our farms. We have a small group of shellfish farming neighbours up here, but the big problem is attracting new, young entrants to this hard work life.

What kinds of challenges are involved with raising shellfish?  We are at the mercy of the weather. Although our sites are in sheltered bays, we have to access them by boat across open water which can be a challenge some times. Rain gear is a must! We also have predators in the form of starfish and crabs, which we try to keep out of the farmed areas.

Why farm vs. wild harvest?   As farmers, we raise seed produced in a hatchery which is totally sustainable and not depleting wild stocks.

Does your season go all year, or are there months that you don't harvest?   We harvest year-round with the highest quality being in the fall/early winter period.

Like regular farming, does the harvest vary from season to season?   The shellfish grow mostly in the summer months, so during the winter we sell the previous year's stock which can lead to short supply in the springtime before the new burst of growth. As with all farming, some years are better than others depending on plankton growth, water temperature, etc.

And finally... what do shellfish eat?   Phyto-plankton, which is naturally occurring in the ocean. The quantity available is dependent on factors like water temperature, intensity of sunlight, among other things.

Sawmill Bay will return to the markets on July 2nd at Trout Lake, and July 3rd at Kitsilano. In the meantime, you can sample their delectable shellfish at several Vancouver eateries including the Irish Heather, Campagnola, The Pourhouse, Gotham, C Restaurant, and the Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar. For a complete restaurant listing or more info on their products, visit their website at http://www.sawmillbay.ca/

Heading out to work on a calm day


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