submitted by Krista McKeeman, Executive Adminstrative Assitant/Project Officer, Rural Action Centre – CBDC East
The oyster industry in PEI is growing in leaps and bounds and contributes significantly to the Island economy. PEI oysters are marketed heavily in Canada and the United States but are also finding their way to the table in many countries in the global marketplace.
The global marketplace presents significant Quality Management and Food Safety challenges that local processors must respond to. In addition, the food regulations for exporting countries have just changed significantly with the 2019 rollout of the new Safe Food for Canadians Regulations.
To help respond to these challenges, the recently formed PEI Oyster Processors Association approached the Montague Rural Action Centre to help facilitate a training program that would help each plant develop advanced Quality Management skills in their operations. Rural Action Centres are one-stop-service centres in Alberton, Montague and Wellington where established businesses, start-ups, and community groups can access supports to help launch and grow their business or community economic development projects. They provide access to government agencies and non-government organizations that are focused on business and community development.
The Montague Rural Action Centre along with CBDC East initiated the project in partnership with the Department of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture through the Canada-PEI Labour Market Agreements, ACOA, Fisheries & Communities and the Oyster Association that has seen the development and delivery of an eight module Quality Management Course customized for molluscan shellfish plants.
Prior to the COVID- 19 pandemic, the course was being delivered in a hybrid distance delivery format where participants meet for one day seminars followed by skill development work completed by the participants. With each module having a theme such as the Food Regulations, Food Safety or HACCP. The demand was so high that the Rural Action Centre arranged to have it offered in both Charlottetown and Summerside for more than 30 participants, representing 16 small oyster processing plants.
Just as the training seemed to running smoothly, the PEI Oysters Processors were faced with yet another challenge. COVID-19 presented significant challenges to the oyster plants in terms of establishing a management plan to allow them to operate. The Montague Rural Action Team quickly responded to this need by immediately adjusting the Training Project to provide consulting and training services on COVID-19 to the oyster plants. As a result, the membership of the PEI Oyster Association has established aggressive COVID-19 management strategies that will provide stringent controls over the virus. Innovative Quality Solutions is currently completing training sessions with the plants and will provide support as the harvesting season begins.
Wayne Chiasson, who is owner of W & R Fisheries and an executive on the Oyster Association feels the training is both timely and functional. “As federally licensed seafood plant, we are constantly being challenged to improve the design and delivery of our Quality Systems. This course helps us respond to those demands” stated Chiasson.
The molluscan shellfish industry is a growing and significant component of the PEI economy with more than 1,400 leases currently employed in the aquaculture industry. The landed value, before processing, of mussels and oysters exceeded 28 million and 14 million dollars respectively in recent years. These operations are vital to the rural economy of PEI.