Stories at Sea is a series of interviews highlighting artisanal fishermen, fisheries, and suppliers who are furthering the seafood industry within Canada. We are here to tell their stories and to pass on their wisdom to the greater community
A Desolation Sound sweetheart, Aphrodite’s Garden Oyster Co. is an Ocean Wise recommended oyster farm that exclusively uses a wild seed that spawns from Pendrell Sound. This means each oyster grow in their natural environment, maintaining their pristine, Desolation Sound taste with the lowest possible carbon footprint.
We sat down with owner-operator Ed Berezack to hear more about how he got his start in the industry and how Aphrodite’s Garden Oyster Co.’s came to be. We are especially appreciative of Ed joining us less than 8 hours after successful arm surgery. Like many other oyster farmers, he truly doesn’t take days off!
Hayley From Coastline: What brought you to oyster farming?
Ed Berezack: I am originally a Fraser Valley boy; I was born in Langley and grew up in Coquitlam and Port Moody. That’s where I developed my love for the water.
In my early 20s, I had bought waterfront property in Okeover Inlet. I really didn't know what I wanted to do. The plan was to move into the wilderness and retire. At the time, the deepwater movement was really starting to take off. It was being promoted by the government and seemed like something to do. I started an oyster lease on my property and made some side money laying floors back in Vancouver. I had never worked so hard in my life, so much for my dream of early retirement!
Can you tell us about the history of the farm?
Our oyster farming lease was started in 1949 by local legend, ‘Cougar’ Nancy Crowther. Our farm is a mile and a half long and is great growing grounds for our wild seed. Our seed comes from Pendrell sound, which has the warmest waters north of California. We go up every summer to collect seed to bring back to our beach at Okeover Inlet. Growing beach oysters are fantastic for the environment as they sequester more carbon when compared to their tray-grown brethren. Our farm is a great battleground for the ongoing carbon war.
In the beginning, we had to develop the farm’s remote setting- a two-part technique producing oyster seed from larvae. First, the larvae attach to a ‘cultch’, a setting material like a shell. Next comes the nursery period, where newly set ‘seed’ are placed in protected areas until they are ready for planting. Our larvae are harvested from Pendrell Sound and are brought to Okeover Inlet for protected growth.
In our early years, when we were just getting the farm up and running, we quickly realized there was a big problem with the Pendrell Sound oyster spat. The seed was dying off and we couldn't figure out why.
We started piecing together the puzzle and realized that yachts were getting fresh bottom paints and heading up the river, into the warmer waters. At the time, boat paints included a chemical called Tributyltin, which served to keep barnacles, seaweed, and other organisms from clinging to the ship. Tributyltin, although helpful in preserving a boat’s health, was extremely toxic to aquatic life. This chemical had already been banned in Europe, but it took time for changes to take place in BC. When the community realized the root cause, it took a lot of pamphlet distribution, lobbying, and working closely with the government to put into place a solution that was better for Pendrell’s aquatic life. This was the only period in our history where our oysters did not spawn reliably. Luckily Pendrell quickly recovered, and we have had good seed from there ever since.
What does your day to day look like?
I am the owner-operator of Aphrodite Garden. We have a small team to help us with the day to day operations- two full-time employees and a few seasonal. The unique thing about our operation is we’re completely beholden to the tides for our harvest. For example, during the winter we harvest at night. During the summer, we get to harvest during the day. We are either out there collecting seed or picking. Orders are ongoing, so harvesting is as well. I will also spend my days harvesting clams and cleaning up our beach.
What’s been the hardest thing to learn?
When I first started out, it was learning how to farm. I came from a prairie farmer background, but oyster farming was a whole other story. I had to build out our remote setting, pioneer and develop both the farm and our oyster. Some people, like ‘Cougar’ Nancy, had been doing it for some time, however, it was still relatively new in Okeover.
“Working with nature is hard to beat. It’s a good, sustainable way to make a living. You’re growing good food for people and looking out for our environment. We are sequestering carbon and providing our community with a local, healthy supply source. Relying on the rest of the world to provide us with food is dangerous and not sustainable.”
If you could pass any knowledge onto the next generation, what would you tell them?
I originally got into the industry because it was good money. I quickly grew to love harvesting for other reasons, working with nature is hard to beat. It’s a good, sustainable way to make a living. You’re growing good food for people and looking out for our environment. We are sequestering carbon and providing our community with a local, healthy supply source. Relying on the rest of the world to provide us with food is dangerous and not sustainable.
What do you see as the future of seafood?
People need to eat more oysters to grow demand. We need to grow more oysters to control the rising carbon levels. As oysters grow, their shells absorb carbon, and since carbon rises from the ocean floor, upwards, these guys are essential as our first line of defence.
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