PEI

P.E.I. oyster sales dropped to zero when pandemic hit

The blow from the COVID-19 pandemic was hard and fast for some oyster producers on P.E.I., but in recent weeks they have found ways to make a partial recovery.

‘The first two weeks were nothing’

One of the immediate effects of the pandemic was the evaporation of markets for oysters. (Jane Adey/CBC)

The blow from the COVID-19 pandemic was hard and fast for some oyster producers on P.E.I., but in recent weeks they have found ways to make a partial recovery.

"The first few weeks, especially, our sales actually were zero," said James Power of Raspberry Point Oyster Company.

"It was pretty devastating at first. As time went on we managed to find a few ways to sell a few oysters."

The trend was similar for Martin O'Brien at Cascumpec Bay Oyster Company.

"The first two weeks were nothing," said O'Brien.

"And then I had one customer in Montreal, they have a fish market there. They started taking an order a week, which has turned into two orders a week now. So that's been very good."

Raspberry Point has turned a FedEx delivery sideline into a main source of sales, says James Power. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

O'Brien has also started a local delivery service, which has his company running at a little over half of what sales would normally be. Raspberry Point is operating at just five to 10 per cent of normal sales.

In order to drive sales, Raspberry Point has turned a sideline of online orders across the continent via FedEx into a more major focus of the business.

O'Brien said Cascumpec Bay is lucky to have an employee with the marketing savvy to help launch an online store, and he was pleasantly surprised by the strength of demand on the Island. He said there has also been a side benefit of getting into the delivery business.

"I've seen lots of places on the Island that I've never been to before and it's been fun," he said.

Main market shut

The big problem for both companies has been the closure of restaurant dining rooms across the country.

Some oysters are sold at grocery stores and markets, but the main market is restaurants. (Suresh Doss/CBC)

"Without restaurants operating — who are really the funnel, how we get our product to the customer — without those running we don't see selling anything like we have done before," said Power.

The oyster growers are fortunate, however, to not have to worry about their stock spoiling while they wait for markets to reopen.

The oysters can just stay in the water, where they will continue to thrive and grow, until the market is ready for them.

There will be more big oysters, says Martin O'Brien. (CBC)

"I'll just have an abundance of bigger oysters so hopefully there's somebody out there that really likes those," said O'Brien.

There are some storage issues, they both said, but it is an easier problem than trying to hold on to vegetables that might spoil.

With future markets uncertain, both companies are considering how much oyster spat to spread this year. It's a difficult proposition, given that it will be several years before oysters started today will be ready for market.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning

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