By Belle Hatfield
For the Vanguard
Nolan and Kim D’Eon have become familiar faces at the farmers’ markets in Yarmouth and Tusket, behind their signature ice-filled dory full of oysters harvested from Eel Lake in Ste.-Anne-du-Ruisseau. The couple has operated Eel Lake Oyster Farm since 1995, but they still encounter people every week who are surprised to learn Yarmouth County is home to the Ruisseau oyster.
When he began building a home on the shores of Eel Lake in 1979, D’Eon shared a dream with his wife. The dream was to some day turn the lake into a living, so that he would no longer have to leave for days at a time to go fishing at sea.
Some dreams take longer to realize than others – and the secret to transforming dreams to reality is often rooted in a lot of really hard work.
It might have been the nasty cuts he got from the oyster-encrusted bottom of the lake while swimming, or the local stories about the aborted venture in the 1950s-60s to grow oysters commercially. It might have been the evidence discovered in nearby middens (the garbage dumps of earlier cultures) that oysters were a staple in the diet of earlier civilizations. Maybe it was a combination of all those factors, but gradually an idea took root. There were oysters growing wild in the lake. Why couldn’t they become the seed from which to grow his dream?
In 1995 D’Eon decided to try to make it in the oyster business. Instead of harvesting wild oysters he became a farmer of oysters. Eel Lake Oyster Farm now produces a significant percentage of Nova Scotia’s export of cultivated oysters. Oysters account for only a tiny percentage of this province’s total landed value of farmed fish species – in 2009 158 metric tonnes were produced, worth around $676,000, some of which were from Eel Lake.
But D’Eon says there is lots of room to grow the industry. Most of his oysters are exported to Quebec and Ontario, and his farm has not yet been able to meet the demand. But to grow his business he has to expand.
The farm has reached the limits of production in Eel Lake, he says. The operation is limited by the amount of available feed in the water. That’s the great thing about oyster farming: everything an oyster needs to grow to market size is available in its natural habitat. They are not “fed” like many other farmed species, giving farmed oysters the World Wildlife Fund’s seal of sustainability approval. But that means you do not crowd oysters, if you want them to reach perfection. It is exciting times for the business, D’Eon says, revealing that within a few months the farm will be expanding to leased sites at the mouth of the Argyle River.
He describes the first decade in the business as filled with “trial and error.”
“It’s only been the last four or five years, that we really began to understand what we’re doing. Now we’ve got it right,” he says.