British Columbia — B.C. Shellfish Areas
Shellfish growers use the intertidal zone of beaches to grow their oysters. Growers typically purchase oyster seed from hatcheries or sometimes collect it during natural spawning events. The seed is set on shell fragments or plastic tubes, and is typically reared on special nursery beaches that have low siltation and are protected from storms and predators. The oysters are then moved to another beach where they are grown to a specific size for the market. In British Columbia, most beach oysters are harvested by hand.
Beach culture consists of rearing and growing shellfish in the intertidal zones along the shore. In some cases, shellfish seed may be nursed in tanks or on rafts, trays, bags or longlines suspected in deep seawater, and then transferred to beaches where they grow to market size. Oysters prefer to grow on hard surfaces and so the seed is set on shell fragments (“cultch”) or plastic tubes. Oysters and clams are often grown together. They are nursed in protected conditions for a summer and then are distributed over grow-out beaches. Beaches are tended like farming plots with debris and rocks often removed. Shellfish growers may also build breakwaters or other structures on the beach to prevent oysters or clams from being washed away. Harvesting is typically done by hand.
In British Columbia, shellfish growers are primarily located on Vancouver Island. Some 315 licensed marine shellfish companies control over 489 culture sites on land leased from the provincial government. Currently, about 3,000 hectares of foreshore land is leased for shellfish farming. Oysters represent about 40 percent of shellfish production.
Shellfish such as oysters, mussels, clams and scallops are filter feeders and depend on clean, nutrient-rich waters. As a result, shellfish aquaculture has a low impact on marine environments. Beach culture does result in the alteration of intertidal habitat. A number of measures address conservation and food safety in shellfish aquaculture, including:
Ocean Wise - Recommended
SeaChoice - Best Choice
Seafood Watch - Best Choice
Jan 01 - Dec 31
The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for most aspects of the aquaculture industry in BC, including licensing sites, production volumes, species to be produced, health and safety, and waste control.
Beach cultured oysters are harvested live using manual labour and can be held in wet storage from five to 10 days depending on the time of year. The oysters are typically held in cargo nets suspended from floating plastic drums in the ocean. They are then sent to processors where they are shucked or packaged live for the market.
The location of shellfish farms is critically important for its productivity and quality since oysters are highly sensitive to their marine enviroment. Their growth directly depends on temperature and food availability, and their survival depends on factors such as wave height, position relative to low tide, currents, contamination, predation, substrate, and beach slope. Salinity, dissolved oxygen and ocean acidity indirectly affect shellfish growth and survival. All of these factors are taken into consideration when shellfish growers select specific beaches, inlets or bays for growing and harvesting shellfish.