After leaving the hatchery, small 1.5mm juvenile oysters are transferred to our nursery tanks, where they are housed in small mesh-bottomed silos. There, the juvenile oysters are fed by the highly productive waters of our tidal pond, which is continuously pumped through the tanks. As the water moves up through the oysters, it is filtered by the small oysters and flows back to the pond, forming a closed loop. At this stage, and for the rest of their lives, our oysters are dependent on the quality of their environment for their survival and growth.
In the nursery, the oyster seed is meticulously tended to by daily washing and regular grading. At this stage they grow exponentially, attaining 10 times their length and 100 times their weight in a few short weeks. Once they reach a size of 10-12mm, the spat are transferred to the open waters of Saint-Simon Bay in floating bags.
Growing oysters using floating gear is a relatively recent innovation, which allow oysters access to the most productive top layer of water as well as protection from predators and fouling organisms. The bags are periodically flipped, simulating a low tide which exposes the oysters and removes unwanted organisms by air-drying. Oysters grown using this method are naturally tumbled by wave action, and the periodic exposure to the sun and air hardens the oysters helping them to develop a stronger closing reflex and a longer shelf life. Oysters grown using this method typically take 3-5 years to reach market size.
Come harvest time, we use a vision grader to help with the time-consuming and subjective task of selecting oysters which ‘make the cut’. The use of automation is one of the ways the industry is making itself more attractive to a new generation of workers, and helping us retain the older generation!
To ensure a constant supply of fresh product, we harvest St-Simon oysters year-round, even in winter! Winter harvesting consists of finding our oyster lines under the ice, and hauling them out with a sled and hydraulic winch. The oysters are immediately placed in insulated containers to prevent freezing, which can happen pretty quickly when the temperatures are –30C with windchill. With the rivers and marshes frozen in the winter, our oysters are typically saltier at this time of the year. Even though oysters must live off of their energy reserves during the whole winter, their metabolism slows down dramatically and our oysters stay plump well into the Spring.