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San Mateo Shellfish

Last October (1998) I attended the joint Pacific Coast Oyster Growers Association (PCOGA) and British Columbia Shellfish Growers Association (BCSGA) Conference in Nanaimo, British Columbia. After the conference I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Brian Kingzett’s oyster and clam farm, San Mateo Shellfish, in Barclay Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

San Mateo Shellfish
I have known Brian for a number of years, both in a business capacity and as a personal acquaintance. As it happens, Brian and I not only share a passion for the aquaculture industry, but also, when it comes to the fun (or getting in trouble, as some might say) after the meetings, it might be said that Brian and I have a lot of experience in this sector.
The tour of his farm started in Port Alberni at the end of a long inlet centrally located on Vancouver Island. We boarded at 8:30 on a windy wet night for the 2 ½ hour sail, guided by GPS and radar to his float house located right at his farm, which I would see in daylight the next day. The trip was a new experience for me, as being out on a cold wet night with poor visibility in an area that I was unfamiliar with had me second guessing if it would not be better to wait until daybreak. Brian’s years of travelling the route and his faith in his 42’ converted tug boat, combined with pizza, Jimmy Buffett music, and a few Coronas, soon got me feeling pretty comfortable, and at the same time excited about this new adventure. Everything went according to our itinerary, except for a near altercation with an old fishing boat being side towed by a tug without proper navigation lights.
Right on schedule we arrived at the float house of Stephanie Richards, who works with Brian and skippers his boat. working hard in paradise Stephanie lives in the Bay next to the farm with her three children, who go to school each day by school boat instead of school bus. She was aware of our arrival in advance, and had some freshly baked, still warm, sweet bread as well as a glass of wine waiting for our arrival.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of a float house, it is exactly that. Both Brian and Stephanie, and most of the people in the area, live on/in float houses. They are typically two story houses built on a raft made of a number of giant logs, common to the forests in that part of the world. They have all the comforts of a regular home, including self contained electricity power units, fresh water supply from a nearby creek, and propane gas supplied heating and cooking appliances. Chains moor the float homes to the shore, which allows movement for the tidal range.
We left Stephanie's after a short stay, and within 10 minutes arrived at Brian’s float house/shellfish nursery/work center/transfer point/storage center etc., and retired before midnight.
That night the wind coming off the Pacific was fierce enough to move the house back and forth about 10o on a regular basis. Under these conditions - not being used to having my bed rotating on a regular cycle all night - sleep was not easy. I only hoped that it would blow over by morning so I could really enjoy this part of the world. a beautiful place to work
Next morning, following my hopes, I awoke to blue skies, warm temperature, and to some of the most incredible scenery and sights I have experienced to date in this business.
Saturday is transfer day in San Mateo Bay, and most of the area growers employ Brian to transfer their harvest of clams and oysters, along with his own, back to Port Alberni for pick up by their product broker, who had placed orders earlier that week. aquaculture workers
Stephanie arrived for work just as Brian was hustling up some breakfast, and I enjoyed my coffee, taking in all the happenings around the farm caused by nature, and awaiting the arrival of the other growers with their market ready product.
Brian’s farm consists of a total of 3.15 hectares and is made up of two deep-water sites of 6 to 8 feet deep for gigas oysters, as well as one beach site for manila clams. The particular site that the float house and farm is located on has a fresh water creek running in at the end of the Bay.
This particular morning I was in for a treat from Mother Nature, with salmon jumping at the mouth of the creek and eagles circling overhead as the sun continued to clear the mountains. critters among the longlinesAs well, much to my amazement, there were sea lions porpoising between the long lines and buoys, chasing down a meal of a small long fish much like a sardine, of which there were thousands in the water at this time of year. Brian has set up his farm to be in tune with nature as much as possible, and also to make it blend in with the environment. His long lines are floated with black buoys, with the exception of sight markers for navigation; from less than a mile away the black buoys were hardly noticeable.
Each line is straight, well anchored, and supports either Dark Sea or the New Aqua Tech High Flow trays in stacks of ten- or seven-high respectfully. These trays produce top grade oysters for the half shell market. growout The line also supports oyster sticks, which will supply product for both the half shell and shucked market.
Hybrid seed are placed in the trays at about ¾". Over the next twelve months they are rotated separated and sorted three times before they are ready for market. The ¾" seed is from a FLUPSY nursery at another site (see the article FLUPSY, it works!).
For the oyster sticks Brian has a remote setting tank into which he introduces larvae for setting on banded groups of oyster sticks. Once setting has been accomplished, the banded groups are placed on one of his deep-water sites until they are ready to be harvested as seed or hung on long lines.
Tidal timing controls the manila clam beach, so planting and harvesting can be any time of the day or night, when low tides make things workable. Seed is planted on the prepared sand/gravel beach and then covered with predation nets against crabs. Growout from planting is typically years. work raft
Attached to the float house is a work raft for cleaning, sorting, bagging equipment, and preparations for day to day tasks.
After spending time observing farm operations and the arrival of other area growers with their product to load on the transfer boat, I assisted with the loading and then had a chance to taste some fresh out of the water oysters.
As Stephanie left for the 2 1/2 hour sail on to Port Alberni, Brian took me on his work boat for a tour of Barclay Sound and the other aquaculture operations, which included Salmon hatcheries, a shellfish hatchery and a number of other oyster grow out sites using both raft and longline husbandry methods.
The remoteness of the area is such that there are a number of fishing camps and logging camps and not much else. As a matter of fact, jokingly Brian claims that he has a deal with the local landowners who are lumber companies, in that he won't climb on their trees if they don't walk on his buoys.
As we traveled back to Port Alberni admiring the awesome scenery I missed on the night run down, there was evidence of past commercial ventures of harvesting food from the sea. Canning factories from the days of harvesting Pink and Chum Salmon have long since disappeared; all that was left were hundreds of pilings, which had a ghostly aura about them where they once supported the factory buildings. We met up with Stephanie again in Port Alberni just as the final product was being off loaded, docked both the boats and headed off to a local pub for a Saturday afternoon beer before heading on our separate ways.

The growing business of aquaculture has its good days and bad days. Spending a day with Brian Kingzett at San Mateo Bay was certainly one of the great days! Thanks Brian, we need more individuals like you in this industry.

why work anywhere else?

Contact Don Bishop at:
Fukui North America
PO Box 669
110-B Bonnechere St.W.
Eganville, Ontario K0J 1T0
**NEW**Tel: 613-559-0075 or 613-628-5266
**NEW**Fax: 613-432-9494
Email: kate@fukuina.com or don@bishopaquatic.com

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