We’re so excited to introduce you to Delia Becker and Scott Rempel, part of a community of shellfish growers on Cortes Island, BC. We’ve spent close to a year getting to know Delia, Scott, their shellfish, and the local shellfish industry, and we are so pleased that we’ve finally found a way to offer live, premium-quality oysters directly from the pristine waters off Cortes Island to our Vancouver members!
We first met Delia back in the June of 2015 when she emailed us looking for a way to connect her lovingly-grown oysters and clams to local consumers. She had heard about our CSF and was very eager that our innovative model of connecting fishermen directly to consumers might provide an alternative to selling her shellfish overseas, as is the case with the vast majority of our locally grown shellfish. We were intrigued at the possibility of being able to offer ethical, local shellfish directly to our members and at being able to help the shellfish growers of Cortes Island continue their traditional, small-scale way of life!
In September of 2015, I attended the Social Ventures Institute at Hollyhock on Cortes Island and decided to reach out to Delia to see if we could meet in person while I was on the island. Delia trekked across Cortes Island and met me for tea on the beautiful, scenic grounds of Hollyhock. The hours passed barely noticed as Delia told the incredible story of her life growing up in Ghana and moving to Canada at the age of 10. Delia studied marine biology and conservation and has a powerful sense of social justice and community which aligns beautifully with the values of Skipper Otto’s.
After graduating from university, Delia worked for a shellfish company researching mortality rates in oyster farms. When the shellfish farm shut down, they told Delia just to dispose of the oyster seed. Although the seeds were just the size of poppy seeds, Delia couldn’t bear to let her “babies” die. She put them in a bucket, tied it off the edge of the dock near her home, and forgot about it for a few weeks. When she returned, she was baffled to find the bucket filled with healthy, thriving oysters! She had inadvertently learned an important piece missing from her research about the right growing conditions for oysters.
Thrilled at the potential for her discovery, Delia worked together with others in the oyster growing community to develop what they called “bouncy buckets” which vastly increased the survival rate of oyster seed. Then, instead of patenting it and selling it for profit, the group of growers and marine biologists began to use it to help increase the stability of coastal communities around the world. Delia and Scott travelled to Brazil to work on a project funded by CIDA and the Brazilian government to help revitalize languishing Brazilian coastal communities whose small scale fishing way of life had been eliminated by large-scale off-shore fishing. This project introduced the unemployed fishermen to growing oysters using the nearly fool-proof bouncy buckets.
“It brought tears to our eyes to see how it was turning villages around,” Delia said. “People could stay in their communities and rebuild their homes. Bouncy buckets helped that whole process.”
Since the Brazil project, others in Delia and Scott’s community have taken the bouncy buckets to Vietnam and other communities around the world to do similar projects.
Today, Delia and Scott live in Powell River and travel by boat to tend and harvest their own beach oysters in Teakern Arm near Castle Falls Provincial Park.
“We are doing this because it’s about providing a really healthy food that’s good for the environment and good for the community,” Delia said. “Oysters are such a low-impact, high quality food! They produce about 1/10th the carbon footprint of beef. They are helping us reclaim polluted areas of the ocean. And the health benefits of eating shellfish are huge!”
One of the great challenges faced by small-scale traditional oyster growers is finding processors willing to custom process their small batches. We spent the better part of the last year trying to find a processor willing to work with us and were thrilled that Sawmill Bay Shellfish on Quadra Island agreed to custom process for us! Thanks to them, we are now able to provide these beautiful oysters to our local Vancouver members!
As a family of salmon fishermen, we’re not experts on shellfish, so we wanted to be sure that our Cortes Island oysters were of absolute top quality. And who better to help us determine that, we thought, than our friend Chef Ned Bell of Yew Seafood + Bar at the Four Seasons in Vancouver! Ned agreed to receive a shipment of oysters and try them out. He confirmed that the oysters are of “premium” quality, calling them “creamy, briny jewels of the ocean.” We know you’ll agree!
Our first member oyster pick-up will be Thursday, March 31st at the Fishermen’s Wharf! Not sure what to do with live oysters? Check out this blog post for lots of info on safe handling, shucking, and cooking your oysters!