The Prince Edward Island Department of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Rural Development has implemented a new program to strengthen the Island’s oyster industry in this small province on the East Coast of Canada.

This newly announced program, The Quality Oyster Aquaculture Program, would provide financial incentives to produce quality oyster leases offering aquaculture operations 50 percent of expenditures to a maximum of $10,000.

This announcement came on the heels of a recent announcement to build a state-of-the art oyster plant by a former Islander and long-time Toronto businessman, Rodney Clark. Although not directly linked, Neil McNair, director of aquaculture with the department, says Clark has done wonderful things for the oyster industry and particularly for PEI. “Rodney has been a big promoter of the oyster overall in what he is doing with his business in Toronto, says McNair and adds, “The oyster program is designed to expand oyster operations, by allowing lease holder to buy necessary equipment (for the expansions) and add increases in production.” He says increasing production is good for everybody.

For Clark the universe is unfolding just as it should.
He has operated Rodney’s Oyster House, a successful restaurant in downtown Toronto, for more than 20 years. Here he is able to serve and move 3,000 people through his restaurant in what he terms 15 working days.
The former Summerside resident is in the throes of building an environmentally friendly eco-plant, Rodney’s Oyster Depot, at Nine Mile Creek Wharf. Clark plans to grow, buy, grade, package and ship PEI oysters throughout North America and around the world.
Already having his international papers to buy oysters, Clark explains that he has a reputation for sourcing good oysters and looks at the end buyer as being the person who has the oyster on the fork. “This is where I come from…I come from the selling of oysters and the distribution.”
Clark began his relationship with oysters through the sale of PEI potatoes some 25 years ago as a relatively new resident in Toronto. His father would include a number of boxes of oysters on the potato truck to the hub city, asking Rodney to deliver them. He says he did this under the guise of “Sell a person a good oyster and you’ll have them for life.”
Clark added a personal touch to these deliveries by regaling stories to the recipients of oyster shuckers in PEI, and was often invited back to enjoy the oysters. “They did not understand where the oysters came from. I feel the more education I gave them, the more they enjoyed the food.”
It’s this friendly sharing of who he is and what oysters mean to him, that seems to have not only kept Clark in business, but has surrounded him with good people throughout the years of operating his restaurant. “I started out with six people and today I have 66. It’s the whole secret of finding willing minds and willing ideas to catch onto yours,” says Clark. “I believe good people find other good people.”
Currently he buys upwards of $300,000 worth of oysters from PEI annually, and is also able to source a variety of oysters from different parts of the world, including New Zealand. “Some aspects of the oysters in the Southern Hemisphere have a different appeal than our oysters in the Northern Hemisphere,” he notes.
He points out that 20 years ago if he were to throw 100 oysters on the table, 90 of those would be good oysters. “You would have the crème de la crème. A bountiful, mature oyster that would excite the belly of anybody in any major city or even on PEI.”
Today the opposite might be true.
Taking the long-time reputation of the widely known PEI Malpeque oyster, Clark wants to improve and enhance the end product. He says he is focused towards seeing the consumer eating a good PEI oyster – or just eating a good oyster.”
Looking at a cost of $2.6 million for the construction of the plant, Clark says he already has half of that in his own money and a track record that allows him to stand up and say he is doing a better-than-ever job of marketing oysters. Simply put, he says, “I don’t like failure.”
It’s that attitude that Clark wants to convey to local politicians in the event that he will qualify for funding. “I would be more than happy to take some public money,” he notes explaining that he has a very strict business plan that should see the oyster plant up and running by the end of August.
This aptly named “oyster man” points out that federal fisheries officials want to see these small ports developed, so they allow the harbor authority, the fisherman themselves, a structure within which they can develop a business on their land. “And we’ve come to fit into that equation,” Clark says.
He and lifetime friend and now partner, Dale Small, who lives in Rice Point, are eager to talk about the plans for the plant and the existing wharf that has seen better days.
As general manager of the plant and now overseeing the construction Small says, “We’ve been in talks with the fisherman for the past year and they are concerned about the area. A whole cleanup of the area is needed and we plan to replace a whole row of old beach sheds. Landscaping and all this work will be done at the expense of Rodney’s Oyster Depot,” states Small.
The fisherman will be lending a hand in the cleanup. As well, a maintenance person will be hired to assure the area remains tidy throughout the year.
Small says the fisherman are very excited about the changes coming to the wharf and have the foresight to see other spinoffs. “This harbor has the lowest lobster landings on PEI. The fisherman see our development here as a potential catalyst for spin off activities, such as tourism,” states Small.
The third partner in this venture is Dean MacEachern, a 30-year veteran of the fishing industry who will be plant manager. He is currently being trained in all the eco-friendly equipment that will be part and parcel of this first-of-its-kind oyster plant in PEI.
In 2007, Prince Edward Island fisherman and growers landed approximately 6.2 million pounds of oysters. The economic value of oyster production is more than $13 million in the province annually and employs some 1,100 people.
With these kinds of stats and all his i’s dotted and t’s crossed Clark does not look negatively at the Island and its fisheries. “Some people will say the off shore fisheries is empty and that may be, but what is rich and bountiful is the shoreline. We can work with that and give other people an opportunity to benefit,” he says.
Clark may have made his move back in the nick of time. “I’m able to come back with a bit of capital. It’s enough to get the boat in the water, so let’s just see if we can sail it.”