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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride

Crassostrea gigas!

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

WOW! Where do I begin? We had such a great time out on the oyster boat this morning learning all about the commercial fishing industry in B.C. There was so much to take in at one time and I probably have a ton more questions I would like to ask, but I’ll try and give you a snapshot of our hour out on the water.

And by the way...Crassostrea gigas are Pacific Oysters!

Up early in my irish fisherwoman’s sweater, ready to go oyster hunting!

Heading out to learn about the production of oysters, scallops and geoducks!

We headed out with Cory on his boat, who has been an oyster fisherman in these waters for over 20 years. Cory owns 25 acres of fishing water rights just north of us, in Fanny Bay,

Cory’s father also had an oyster boat, before him.

Cory’s oyster boat with his step-son Hadyn and his employee Kristen

Captain Cory explaining to us how the oyster fishing operation works.

We had wanted to get up close and personal with the sea lions, since we hear them so much, but my zoom lens wasn’t strong enough to get close enough to actually photograph them. Today from the water, we were able to get as close as we wanted. As we approached them, the sea lions starting barking, singing and playing for us!

Barking sea lions in Fanny Bay

Lazy sea lions.

Big daddy sea lion. He wanted his own oyster raft to hang out on. Doesn’t he look so proud of himself?

After we saw the barking sea lions Cory told us that there were also a few seals hanging out on another oyster raft nearby. The seals and sea lions do get along, but they prefer to hang out on different rafts. The seals were a lot more nervous when we pulled up in the oyster boat and they all started to head for the water, rather than let the oyster boat get close to their raft. The seals were also very quiet.

Seals hanging out on oyster rafts in Fanny Bay. Denman Island is in the background.

Pacific Harbour Seal in Fanny Bay. Deep Bay is in the background. We were told that house in the background is 50,000 square feet and has an indoor bowling alley in it!

Both the sea lions and the seals primarily eat herring. The Pacific herring spawns occur in early spring as they migrate from offshore waters, to bays, such as Fanny Bay. When the herring are spawning, the sea lions and seals are much more abundant on the rafts in Fanny Bay. I’m sure it will get a lot noisier in the spring when the herring are spawning!

After visiting the seals and sea lions, Cory took us over to the area where he is growing Pacific geoducks. Geoducks are pronounced as “gooey-ducks”.. Geoducks are a species of very large saltwater clam. The common name is derived from the Coast Salish language known as Lushootseed, where they are called ‘g ideq’.

If you look really closely in the photograph, you can see white tubes in the bottom of the sea. The geoducks are planted in the sand, when the tide is out in the summertime, and the tubes are to protect the clams as they grow.

The geoduck is native to the coastal waters of western Canada and the northwestern U.S. The shell of the clam ranges from 6 inches to over 8 inches in length, but the extremely long siphons make the clam itself much longer than this; the “neck” or siphons alone can be 3.3 feet in length. The geoduck is the largest burrowing clam in the world. It is also the longest-living animals of any type, with a typical lifespan of 140 years; the oldest has been recorded at 168 years old.

Geoduck picture I found online.

The geoduck is planted on the ocean floor within the soft intertidal or subtidal zone by putting 4-5 juvenile geoducks inside PVC tubes that are ‘wiggled” into the sandy substrate. The PVC tubes are about 20-30cm long and 7 cm remain above the substrate. The plastic tubes are covered with a mesh net to protect the clams from predators and the tubes also serve to retain seawater at low tide, which prevents dehydration of the clams. After 1-2 growing seasons, when the juvenile geoducks have burrowed themselves deep enough into the substrate to be out of reach of predators, the PVC tubes are removed. Not all tidelands are suitable for geoduck aquaculture. The sand must be deep and clean and the water must have the right salinity and degree of cleanliness. Geoducks are then harvested by hand, 5-7 years later, when they have reached about 1kg. While there is no standard grading system for quality, the color of the siphon (the whiter the better) and the size (up to 1kg) are the main determining factors in the price they will fetch. Cory told us that he gets up to $50 per geoduck once they are harvested. Live geoducks are packed in coolers and shipped on the same day they are harvested. Geoduck meat is a prized delicacy in Asian cuisine and the majority of exports are sent to China, Hong Kong and Japan and the meat can sell for $100-$150 per pound at their destination. Cory needs quite a few helpers when he is planting and harvesting geoducks, given the labour intensity of the crop.

Well that sure was interesting learning about something we had never even heard of before!

We headed next to the oyster rafts to learn about the production of oysters.

Oyster raft storage facility. These are the trays that are used to go from one stage of oyster farming to the finishing stage.

Cory on the oyster raft, hooking a tray of oysters for us to see.

If you look closely you can see green rope and black rope looped around the boards on the raft. The different coloured ropes are placed at different depths, so the cages under the water don’t bang into each other. Each raft has approximately 30,000 oysters which are being reared under each raft floating on the water that Cory has the rights to. Cory had just built the new raft that I had photographed last week. Today they were taking the raft out to their water area and were going to secure the raft and start using it for oyster production. The raft they built has railings around it to keep the sea lions off it.

Cory’s new oyster raft. The oyster raft cost $8,000 to build.

Oyster trays.

The oyster seed that Cory buys is flown up on ice from Chile. He then plants the seed in buckets until it reaches a large enough size to go into these trays. Once they are crowded in these trays of about 300 oysters per rack, and growing out of the sides of the tray, then they know that the oysters need more room to grow. The oysters are then moved to trays with bigger holes in the sides, so the oysters have more room to grow. They try to have approximately 100 oysters per rack on the ’finishing racks’. From the oyster seed to final oyster production they lose about 35% of their final product due to crabs and starfish predators who can quickly eat a lot of oysters.

Watching the oysters being hauled in off the raft using the winch on board the oyster boat.

The Pacific oysters or Crassostrea gigas that Cory farms originally originated from Japan and they are the most widely farmed and commercial imported oyster in the world, as they are easy to grow. In 2000, 98% of the world‘s oyster production was Pacific oysters. The global production in 2003 was worth $3.09 billion. Oysters need a good phytoplankton/algae food supply and take 18-30 months to reach a market size of 70-100grams live weight.

After seeing the oyster production raft, Haydn then suggested to Cory that he should take us over to where they were producing scallops. The scallop production is something he has a license to farm, but he mostly does it for his own consumption. They find the scallops attached to the oyster trays and when they find some scallops, they move them over to the scallop trays they have attached to only one section of another raft. There are two kinds of scallops that are harvested in Fanny Bay; ’swimming’ or ’pink’ scallops or ‘rock’ scallops. The scallops take from 6 months to 3 years to reach 8 cm, which will provide the nickel to loonie size mature scallop, which is ready to be eaten.

Scallops. The shells were opening and closing. This is how the scallop filters the water to get its nutrients from plankton. Because scallops are lacking siphons, water moves over a filtering structure, where food particles become trapped in their mucous.

Scallops have a large number (up to 200) of small (1mm) eyes arranged along the edge of their mantles. Scallops rely on their eyes as “early warning” threat detection system, scanning around them for movement and shadows, which could indicate potential predators.

After learning about scallops, we headed back to shore so that Cory and his crew could get on with their day. It was a such a wonderful experience we had today learning all about the seafood production on the Pacific coast. We are heading out now to buy Cory a case of beer to thank him for his trouble this morning.

Heading back to Lighthouse RV park to see Newman. Our neighbour Jim was waiting for us in the blue coat on the shore.

It is a beautiful sunny day on Fanny Bay at +5C and now we are headed out to enjoy the rest of our day and get some more fresh air and exercise.

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