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Oyster Farming in Prince Edward Island

Photographer: CJ Gunther

 

Leslie Hardy, never one to shy away from hard work, sets out for the water at sunrise each morning to check on his hundreds of lobster traps. He returns in the mid afternoon to his oyster farm, helping his children and grandchildren tend to the tens of thousands of oysters in the bay his home overlooks.

 

Fishing oysters and lobsters is hardwired into the Hardy bloodline. His father, brothers, four sons and one of his daughters are hooked on the family business, established over four generations on Lennox Bay in East Bideford, Prince Edward Island. Along with Leslie’s sons, many of his 36 grandchildren are involved in the farming of Malpeque oysters, some of the most sought after PEI oysters.

 

My father passed the farm onto my older brother, but after a while he wasn’t interested in it anymore so I bought it from him,’ recalled Hardy. ‘I was a school teacher once, and so was Shirley [his wife] but I gave it all up for this, the adventure of being on the water, the freedom of doing my own thing.

 

In this age of automation and mechanically-processed foods, oysters are still a hands-on operation (albeit gloved hands). For the Hardy family, gone is the day of ‘tonging,’ a method of scooping oysters from the bay floor with a hand-operated dredging basket. Instead, the Hardys sort each and every oyster by hand.

 

They also have developed a method for raising higher-quality oysters in less time. The traditional ready-for-market oyster matures at seven years, but the Hardys can grow them to full size in three years and with a rounder shape, which is an attractive quality for raw bars. Their oysters are shipped all over North America, from PEI to Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Boston, Montreal, and Maryland.

 

Gordon is the youngest of Leslie’s eight grown children who, in addition to being an integral part of the oyster business, also farms mussels on the other side of the bridge that divides the bay. ‘On this side we kill the mussels and grow them on the other,’ explains Gordon. Talking about his life, ‘[I] never did anything else; only made it to the tenth grade, but I like [farming oysters]. Some folk round here go out west, Alberta ways, working [for] oil. I wouldn’t want to be that far from home. This is where I want to be, with my family.

 

For the Hardys, it is all about family and the labor of love that is making a living on the water.