The Shellfish Excellence Award honours a PEI operator that has demonstrated a significant commitment to the quality, service, promotion, and sustainability of shellfish. This year’s PEI International Shellfish Festival will see Restaurants Canada present the 2nd annual iteration of the prize, as part of which the winner will receive: a featured article in a 2018 issue of Menu Magazine, enjoying a readership of 66,000; a $500 cheque and plaque presented by Shanna Munro, Restaurants Canada President & CEO; and an official seal for use on all menus and marketing material. If you’re a PEI operator with a passion for shellfish, follow the link below to register for the award:

From September 14 to September 17, Charlottetown will host the 22nd PEI International Shellfish Festival, a celebration dedicated to the seafood with which Atlantic Canada has built its culinary legacy. Though the festival was originally intended to be a one-day exhibition in 1996, the lasting appeal of the now four-day event is no surprise; featuring a collection of local musicians, celebrity chefs, and sampling opportunities, the PEI Shellfish Fest has extended its reach to become a broader of showcase of Maritime culture and hospitality. But behind the festivities, there exists a roller coaster history of tribulations and triumphs that lends the event a grand sense of accomplishment and dignity.

For hundreds of years, the Malpeque Oyster boasted a reputation as being remarkably delectable due to the warm, coastal waters of Malpeque Bay. These conditions, not naturally replicable anywhere else in the world, provided Indigenous peoples and early European settlers with easy access to immensely populous oyster beds, a valuable resource for communal trade, and eventually, international export. By 1882, it’s estimated that the overall value of the oyster industry had reached a whopping $170,000 – earliest available inflation rates put that at $3.7 million in today’s currency at least.

A crowning moment in the Malpeque Oyster’s history came at the 1900 World Expo in Paris, during which the public got to experience (for the very first time) the escalator, talking films, and the diesel engine. Here, the Malpeque Oyster was officially selected as the best tasting Oyster in the world. But as sweet as this victory was, it was followed by years of unsustainable fishing practices that saw the number of barrels harvested drop by the tens of thousands. As alive as the waters of Malpeque Bay once were, they couldn’t keep up with the explosive demand.
To make matters worse, an attempt to repopulate Malpeque Bay in 1913 by introducing a species of oyster from the United States resulted in the spread of a deadly pathogen now recognized as Malpeque Disease. With a mortality rate of 90% (for which there is still no known cause or cure), the disease quickly spread to other bays throughout Prince Edward Island, rupturing the local economy. It would take over a decade to recover, as a tiny population of remaining oysters were revealed to be resistant to the disease.

In light of this discovery, the Ellerslie Experimental Station was formed in 1930, a research outfit dedicated to the study and preservation of these very special survivors. The practices established by the station, as well as the many lessons learned during the oyster boom (and subsequent collapse) of the early 1900s, are now considered pivotal to the industry’s monumental success today. This is also why the Malpeque Oyster is still a world-renowned delicacy. As of 2015 StatsCan lists PEI as having produced 30.6% of Canada’s oyster output in metric tonnes, valued at $13 million.

During the PEI International Shellfish Festival, we celebrate PEI’s success today in light of the struggles and hardships of yesteryear. And though the story of the Malpeque oyster is certainly one to remember, let’s not assume that it’s the only one. Lobster, crab, shrimp – the PEI shellfish industry is filled with tales of growth and discovery, ambition and collaboration. At the heart of these tales are talented men and women whose love for shellfish nurtures our own, and the Shellfish Excellence Award was conceived as a vehicle to bring their narratives to light.