Two years ago, in an article entitled “The State of the Shellfish Industry on Cortes Island,” I pointed out some of the problems facing the Shellfish Industry, and stressed the need for immediate change. Much has happened since then; some positive, some less so.
More young people are joining the ranks of shellfish growers, giving new energy to the Industry.
The supply of oyster seed has increased significantly, making it more readily available in meaningful quantities.
At the same time, however, the economic downturn has not been kind to the shellfish industry. People aren’t venturing out to oyster bars and restaurants like they use to (supporting the old adage that oysters are finger-food for the rich.)
There has been a greater shift towards dominance of the Industry by big business. This poses a threat to our Mom & Pop operations here on Cortes which focus on quality products, rather than quantity. Our reputation has spread Internationally, affording us a comfortable lifestyle.
But, times they is a changin’.
We must now explore alternatives. Our small-scale operations no longer grant us the strength necessary to deal with a changing marketplace. In order to compete on an equal footing with the big boys we will have to unify our operations under a larger, one-voice umbrella, and diversify our product line. Several interesting ideas have come forward:
– Cortes needs its own processing centre – not a complex one, but a simple facility which deals in half-shell products only. This would help to unify local growers, and allow them to trade competitively with restaurants and other retail markets.
– Produce more “value-added” products. Our smoked oysters are well known. However, they are costly. Why not build our own smoking/canning/freezing facility?
– How about a quality frozen product that can be popped directly into the oven (Ostras Gratinada, and Oysters Rockefeller, to name but a few.)
– Another idea worth exploring is to develop a specialized brand of pet food using off-grade oysters – finger food for your cat!
– Build a nursery/hatchery to produce our own seed – scallops in particular.
Government agencies would gladly support many of these projects. We also have a line on a purpose-built mobile unit that would be ideal for a small processing/freezing plant.
All that is needed is good old Cortes ingenuity and youthful energy.