The provincial government has set December as "Celebration of the Oyster" month, in the wake of media reports calling into question the quality of Malpeque oysters, once considered among the world's best.
Last week, the province called together local media to showcase Malpeque oysters - complete with photo ops of Premier Robert Ghiz slurping them off the half shell.
While the Malpeque name still carries weight, the oyster's reputation took a hit recently when some prominent names in the oyster industry singled them out for criticism. Seventy per cent of the Malpeque oyster fishery is wild, and that causes some problems with quality. The shells can be long instead of round, making them difficult to shuck. Inside, they can be short on meat.
Wholesaler Jason Woodside said Malpeques just aren't that good any more, and he's seen it at recent events.
"[The Malpeques] were these tiny little dried up little cocktails, right next to these beautiful, big Blue Point oysters," said Woodside.
Too many fishing?
Having 675 licensed fishermen also poses problems. In previous years, less information was available about where the good fishing was. Fishermen tended to stick with particular beds, so beds producing well were not overfished. Clifford Bernard, head of the P.E.I. Shellfish Association, said that has changed.
"Now they have cellphones and GPSs, you know," said Bernard.
"One friend's one place, and another friend another place, and they say, 'Well, it's good fishing here.'"
PEI's fisheries minister has been meeting with industry to find ways to bring the bivalve's reputation back. One possibility is cutting back on the number of fishermen. Bernard believes some licences will have to be bought out to take pressure off the beds. But he doesn't want to see too many go, because these licences inject much-needed employment and money into the rural economy.
The industry was worth about $13 million last year.
Woodside said the industry needs to do more of what's happening in other jurisdictions: reduce the wild fishery in favour of cultivating oysters. That, he said, will allow for better quality control.
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