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Oyster Farming

“A loaf of bread, the Walrus said, “Is what we chiefly need: Pepper and vinegar besides are very good indeed — now if you’re ready, Oysters, dear, We can begin to feed!” -Lewis Carroll

The Discovery Islands are located in the Discovery Passage between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. This spectacular archipelago begins where the Strait of Georgia narrows between Quadra Island and Vancouver Island and continues north until it widens into the Johnstone Strait.

The quiet rural lifestyle, spectacular scenery, temperate climate, wildlife habitat, and year-round recreation combine to make the Discovery Islands a desirable area to live and visit. The breathtaking fjords of Toba Inlet and Bute Inlet are a popular destination for boaters. Only Quadra Island and Cortes Island have ferry service, and the other islands are serviced by private boat or float plane.

Most of British Columbia’s oyster farms are in the Strait of Georgia, the hundred-mile inland sea stretching north of Vancouver. The Strait is sheltered by Vancouver Island and offers endless calm hideaways for oysters. Sixty per cent of Canada’s oysters are produced in British Columbia. The primary farmed species is the Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas).

The production cycle on a British Columbia oyster farm begins with the collection and production of oyster larvae. In British Columbia, some farmers still collect the larvae in the wild, although, larvae are increasingly produced in controlled hatchery facilities from spawning adult broodstock. The larvae are kept suspended in tanks by circulating water, and in a few weeks they transform into tiny seed. The seed is essentially a very small version of the adult oyster.

Once the seed reaches an appropriate size, it is transferred to the ocean for final grow-out. In British Columbia before final grow-out the oyster seed is often transferred to a ‘floating upwelling system’ (referred to as a ‘flupsy’) that is housed on a raft on the ocean. The seed are kept in compartments on the flupsy whereby nutrient rich ocean water is circulated, thereby allowing them to reach a larger size before the final grow-out phase.

When the seed is ready for the grow-out phase, it is transferred to the ocean where it is reared in one of a variety of systems:

  • Beach or Seabed Culture: Individual oysters are ‘planted’ on the ocean floor. This form of farming has been ongoing in Canada since the 1800s and the first aquaculture leases granted were for oysters in the 1850s in Prince Edward Island for this type of farming.
  • Tube Culture: The flupsy stage is not used for tube culture. The larvae are allowed to set along lengths of plastic tubing or rope- where the seed then naturally attaches itself to the surface. The tubing/rope is then vertically suspended from a secured flotation device (e.g. raft or buoy) in deep subtidal water.
  • Raft Culture: Oysters are placed in trays which are then suspended from a secured flotation device such as a raft or buoy in deep subtidal water.

Shellfish farming requires no input other than providing a clean environment and limiting predation. Oysters are filter feeders that obtain their required nutrients by drawing sea water through their gills and filtering out naturally occurring tiny plants and animals called plankton. Oyster farmers rely solely on natural food supplies.

Learn more about oysters at the Oyster Guide.