Nfld. & Labrador

Success on the half shell: Triton man serves up N.L's first local oysters

Ten years ago when Juan Roberts started trying to cultivate oysters, skeptics said it couldn't be done. He has now launched Mersheen Bay Oysters.

When Juan Roberts started trying to cultivate local oysters, skeptics said it couldn't be done

Juan Roberts of Triton has proved skeptics wrong and produced the first locally cultivated oyster in the province. (Jane Adey/CBC)

A crowd of people sampled locally cultivated oysters at Mallard Cottage in St. John's on Tuesday, validating a Triton man's decade of effort.

Juan Roberts, president and CEO of Merasheen Bay Oysters, started experimenting with the mollusks 10 years ago, despite many people telling him they'd never work in Newfoundland and Labrador waters.

"That's not a real good thing to tell an aquaculturalist, because the first thing you want to try and do is prove them wrong," said Roberts.

Roberts has had lots of experience with another shellfish — he's been growing mussels for 31 years — but oysters are a different kettle of fish altogether.

For one thing, waters off Newfoundland would normally be considered too cold to grow them.

Roberts says the waters neer Merasheen in Placentia Bay are a little bit warmer and ice-free in winter. He says some in the industry have told him cooler water might actually give his oysters an edge in the market because they won't spawn in the heat of summer.

Roberts looks on as chef Todd Perrin shucks some of his locally cultivated oysters. Roberts started growing oysters 10 years ago and says it was not easy. (Jane Adey/CBC)

"We're hoping our oysters are going to have a much plumper meat in the summer than other places." said Roberts.

Roberts already sells 250,000 tons of mussels into the North American market, including New York and Philadelphia.

He's hoping buyers of that Newfoundland and Labrador seafood product will develop a taste for oysters from this part of the world too. 

Mallard Cottage owner Todd Perrin has sampled more than a few oysters in his culinary travels.

The top three producers of oysters are South Korea, Japan and France. Canada is No. 7 in global production. (Jane Adey/CBC)

The chef says he can't wait to offer up the local briny bivalves to customers at his restaurant. 

"It's a beautiful oyster, it is really quite nice," said Perrin. 

"There is really nothing that tells a story of the terroir of the ocean like an oyster. It sits on the bottom and it absorbs everything. It gives you a taste, really, of where it's from."

Merasheen Bay Oysters are being distributed wholesale in cases of 100 but the company says it will soon have cases of 30 available for smaller customers. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Roberts says there'll be 300,000 to 500,000 oysters available to the market now, and in a year he'll have a million. 
He has three million oysters growing in the water but it takes them at least four years to mature.

Between his mussel farms in the Botwood and Triton areas and now his oyster operation in Placentia Bay, Roberts employs 40 people, and he's optimistic about the future of local shellfish.

"I gotta pinch myself to make sure it's real," he said. "We're excited."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Adey

CBC News

Jane Adey hosts CBC Radio's The Broadcast, and has worked for many other CBC programs, including Here & Now, Land & Sea and On The Go.

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