OYSTERS & SUSTAINABILITY

Gordy McLellan Jr. can talk oysters all day.

He’s been working on his family’s shellfish farm, Mac’s Oysters, since he was twelve years old. Now he’s a third-generation shellfish farmer, working beaches and deep water lines off the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

He might have fallen into the family business — but he loves it.

“It’s a good, outdoors type of thing,” he says. 

The Fanny Bay farm has developed a reputation for producing world-class oysters and clams. Some of their customers have been buying their oysters from Mac’s for 30 years. The reason they can keep coming back for more — and more — is the sustainable nature of shellfish farming.

Visit to Mac’s Oysters farm, Oct 2020.

The fact that shellfish farms have such longevity is telling. Mac’s Oyster Ltd. has operated uninterrupted for 60 years and some of McLellan’s grandfather’s beaches — established in 1947 — are still in use today. Mac’s isn’t the only Canadian shellfish farm with decades of history. An oyster farm in Nova Scotia may be the oldest in Canada. It was started in 1867 and harvesting has gone on for generations.

Over the years, Mac’s has worked with experts, like biologists, to ensure they aren’t damaging the ecosystems. The shellfish farmers monitor water quality and keep an eye on crop density, while working with government agencies and labs to make sure the environment is protected. 

Visit to Mac’s Oysters farm, Oct 2020.

There are several “planting” techniques to optimize growth. Oysters can be suspended on deep water lines or trays, or seeded right on the beach. Crops need space to grow! 

But aside from going about their business growing, oysters are critical to ocean health. 

Did you know one single oyster, can filter approximately 189 litres (that’s 50 gallons) of water a day? Which means wherever there are oyster beds, there’s cleaner water and healthier ocean habitat. 

The Florida Oceanographic Society provides an amazing video that shows the impact oysters can have on water cleanliness in a very short period of time.

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) notes that farmed shellfish can filter particles as small as two microns out of the water. “Even a small oyster farm can clean more than 350 million litres each day, reducing turbidity, increasing light penetration, improving water quality and reducing anoxia (low oxygen).”

The mere presence of oysters in a body of water, or on a beach, can also improve public commitment to keeping bodies of water clean and free of pollutants.

“Oyster farming is, by definition, green and sustainable,” according to the CAIA. “Oysters cannot tolerate the discharge of sewage or other toxins; the presence of oyster farming, therefore, often results in increased awareness and monitoring of coastal waters.”

But even more impressive? The CAIA says farmed oysters help remove carbon dioxide from the ocean during shell formation – therefore reducing greenhouse gases.

It’s pretty impressive for a humble oyster. 

On top of that, bivalve aquaculture may be part of the solution to improving the ocean health and rebuilding habitats for other sea life. Oysters are a foundational part of ocean ecosystems.

Visit to Mac’s Oysters farm, Oct 2020.

“Oysters play a big role in removing pollution from the sea, preventing erosion and helping other sea life to flourish,” Business Insider reports. “They remove pollutants and release cleaner water in which life can more easily develop. Tiny animals also live in and under the shells, which in turn attract more animals and underpin entire ecosystems.”

Placing oyster cages, or oyster beds, in oceans can encourage other sea life to return. Such was the case in the Solent waterway, a strait between the Isle of Wight and mainland England.

Visit to Mac’s Oysters farm, Oct 2020.

“The cages have been shown to provide a refuge for other marine life, with 97 different species having been found living within the cages so far, including critically endangered European eels, juvenile spiny seahorse and sea bass,” according the Blue Marine Foundation, which is reseeding protected seabed sites with juvenile oysters as part of a program to re-establish wild oyster beds.  

In New York, the Billion Oyster Project is restoring oyster reefs in New York Harbour because of the habitat they provide marine life  — and because oyster beds can help protect the city from storm damage by lessening the impact of large waves, preventing erosion and reducing flooding. 

Not only do oysters help ocean habitat, they help human habitat too!

 

Visit to Mac’s Oysters farm, Oct 2020.