PEI

'Mother Nature dealt us an awful hand': Island oyster growers predicting poor yield

Some Island oyster growers say they've lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of crop, largely as a result of P.E.I.'s rough fall and winter weather. 

'Some fellas lost their seed, and some fellas lost their bigger oysters.... It's just the way nature is'

Oyster grower Matthew French drives past his floating cages in the Foxley River. French says more than half of them are filled with dead crop. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Some Island oyster growers say they've lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of crop, largely as a result of P.E.I.'s rough fall and winter weather.

An early November freeze on Island bays and rivers caught some growers off guard, making it a challenge to properly sink their cages and protect their oyster crop for the winter. 

Gordon Jeffery, co-owner of Five Star Shellfish — an oyster processing plant in western P.E.I. — said many of his suppliers are now reporting big losses as a result. 

"Some fellas lost their seed, and some fellas lost their bigger oysters," he said. "Some fellas lost 20 per cent of their crop. Some fellas lost 40 or 50 per cent of it.... It's just the way nature is."

'A lot of silt at the bottom there'

Matthew French, an oyster grower on the Foxley River, says he managed to properly sink his cages ahead of the freeze. 

But when he raised them this spring, he said he still discovered at least 70 per cent of his seed and nearly half of his two-year-old oysters dead — an estimated loss of $150,000. 

Oyster grower Matthew French scoops up handfuls of dead and dying oyster seed, which he suspects were choked by sediment in the Foxley River. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

French suspects a major wind and rain storm late in the fall washed sediment into the river and choked his crop.  

"There was a lot of silt at the bottom there.... So the sediment came from somewhere," he said. "I've always had great success with my seed. But this year, no. Mother Nature dealt us an awful hand."

Jeffery said some other growers in his area reported a similar problem. 

"The storm we had coming on the end of November there, it sprung a lot of seaweed and dirt overtop the cages. It smothers your oysters out there."

Watershed group investigating 

Karen Rank, co-ordinator of the Lot 11 and Area Watershed Association, said while her group hasn't noticed "any large issues" with sediment buildup in the area's streams and rivers, she plans to reach out to affected growers to hear their concerns. 

She said given the potential for climate change to fuel more extreme storms, it's important to research what can be done to minimize their impact on the watershed and the oyster industry. 

"This may be an isolated incident which can be tidied up with maybe tree planting," said Rank. "But once all the pieces of the puzzle are looked at, we'll have a better understanding of what's taking place."

Karen Rank, co-ordinator of the Lot 11 and Area Watershed Group, says she plans to work with affected growers to figure out what can be done to minimize the impact of storms and unseasonable weather in the future. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Jeffery said he worries about the potential for more storms and unseasonable weather in the future. 

For now though, he said his focus is on keeping his plant running, despite the smaller supply some growers will be delivering this fall. 

"The only thing saving me right now is I had some stuff left over from last year, which will keep me going for an extra month or month and a half. But if I didn't have that stuff, I'd probably be closing up shop early in the fall or early winter here," he said. 

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