Prince Edward Island

It’s early morning on Malpeque Bay, PEI, and through the soft fog you hear the sound of two-stroke engines hacking to life. You ride out of the harbor in a fifteen-foot dory that seems too small for commercial use. Everything in the dory is quickly soaked by the mist, but then the air clears and beneath you, through ten feet of water, you see them, as if a wrecked treasure galleon had spilled gold coins across the bay: oysters everywhere. You anchor and get out your tongs—fourteen-foot, hinged wooden poles with teeth at the ends for grabbing oysters. Slowly, painstakingly, you fish up a handful of oysters at a time and deposit them in your boat. Across shallow Malpeque Bay, as the rising sun beats the water blue and silver, a hundred fishermen in a hundred dories like yours are making their living, tonging gold from the bay. This is the essence of PEI oysters. You won’t see big dredges plying the waters of Malpeque Bay like you do on Long Island Sound, Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and Willapa Bay. You won’t even see the little dredges used by smaller oyster operations. Wild Malpeque oysters are harvested by tongs from a dory. Not even hand-picking is allowed. It sounds crazy for a twenty-first-century industry, but it works. Besides, it makes the photo-snapping tourists delirious.

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