This feature was originally published in Black Press Media’s Prince Rupert Northern View newspaper in 2019.
Coastal Shellfish hopes to have 15 million farmed scallops in the ocean this year.
“That’s one, five million,” Provan Crump confirmed over the noise of pumps and running water at the hatchery on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
Crump is the hatchery manager of the First Nations-owned company. Originally from Australia, he worked in commercial oyster hatcheries in Hawaii before coming to Coastal.
“Right now there are about 4.5 to 5 million scallops in the water grown over the last five or so years,” he said. But they are spawning more.
They have nine, 25,000-litre tanks that hold thousands and thousands of eggs as small as grains of sand.
The eggs grow with as little bacteria as possible (Crump drops the tanks through tight screens every few days to keep water quality high) and are fed house-grown algae for 21 days until they are ready to metamorphosize into sedentary animals.
When they’re strong enough to attach onto a kelp-like material, they enter into the nursery, grow, are graded and either go out to an ocean farm site where they filter feed in 12-layer, circular longline nets, or they’re kept protected in saltwater ponds for further rearing.
With their pond progeny multiplying, it’s good timing that Coastal received its shellfish processing licence this week. Although, CEO Michael Uehara said it could have come in a bit sooner.
“There’s a labyrinth of regulatory stew that’s really difficult to get through,” Uehara told the Northern View. “I think this is the first licensed shellfish plant in 13 years or something.”
He said they started looking at the licence about five years ago, but the initiative died due to internal focus on farm stocks and a lack of external supports for the regulatory process.
“Very few people in Canada know how to do a processing licence for shellfish, so if you call [the Canadian Food Inspection Agency] … they’ll tell you to get a consultant,” Uehara said.
“There are a couple [consultants] in Canada that are fairly overtaxed, so in the end you have to devote almost a full-time person to study this on quite a high level to get it done.
“I would rather it be the last day of taxes at 4 ‘o clock in the afternoon and I had forgotten to file last year’s taxes than go through this with a year-and-a-half,” he said.
However, Uehara added it’s important to remember what the process is for: ensuring the health of Canadians and compliance with international regulations.
“Is it a daunting task? It certainly is,” he said. “Should it be less daunting? I don’t know.
“Sometimes these things do exist to ensure the well-being of people.”
After Coastal acquired its processing licence, Fukasaku was the first client to buy live adult scallops from them.
“For us to be their first official local buyer, it means a lot to us and I’m so honoured and humbled,” said chef Dai Fukasaku. “I just got my first delivery [Tuesday] and the great thing about it is it was harvested [Monday], so it’s probably the freshest scallops ever.”
Going forward, all of the Great Bear brand scallops will either be sold live in B.C. or fresh shucked on the west coast of North America, according to Uehara.
He said they’re still fleshing out their distribution method for Prince Rupert, but they will open sales to local markets in the next month or so.
The new licence and more markets also mean more jobs.
Coastal currently has about 40 employees, 75 per cent of whom are First Nations.
Now that they’re doing their own processing, Uehara said they’re going to create more jobs “that involve a lot more technological competence.”
“There are not a lot of fisheries that are expanding and this one is,” he said. “Along with that expansion, I think, is also the creation of jobs that are jobs of the future in this industry, and they will be jobs that require a pretty high component of technical abilities.”
Uehara said they expect to be able to offer competitive wages out of the profitability of their product.
“Scallops are one of the highest-valued seafoods you can have,” he said, adding that their farm gate price will be somewhere between $1.70 and $1.90 per scallop.
Ultimately, the proximity of future sites and the arc of the industry will factor into just how many jobs Coastal creates.
“As things stand right now, we’re comfortable being the vertically-integrated organization that grows this industry,” he said. “But in 10 years, this may evolve into a hatchery producing seed for growers, it could evolve into a processing facility for people who are farming their product and bringing it in.
“As we are a First Nations-owned industry, our shareholders are anxious to build this company, but they have a long-term view of growing an industry,” he added.
“The thing about scallop aquaculture or shellfish aquaculture is it’s environmentally restorative, and I think this is about restoring an economy of inclusion for First Nations on the North Coast, and also about restoring the oceans in which it happens.”