Fishing and Agriculture

The Fishery – PEI’s Number 3 Industry

Fishing has played an integral role in the life of Islanders since the earliest of times. First, it was for reasons of survival. Then, the abundant stocks of groundfish and shellfish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence became a way of life. Fishing has always been one of the foundations of the Island's economy, and is the province's oldest organized industry. 

There are more than 4,500 fishermen and crew engaged in commercial fishing and the aquaculture industry is one of Prince Edward Island’s top industries. With a landed value of catch over 170 million dollars, and with a population of 138,000 the province is not able to absorb this production. Therefore much of it is marketed within Canada and exported to international markets.

There are 60 processing plants in Prince Edward Island exporting product on and off the Island. Products processed on PEI include lobster, oysters, scallops, flounder, cod, snow crab, rock crab, toad crab, hake, eels, herring, mackerel, smelts, tuna, quahaugs, clams (soft-shell and surf), silversides, mussels, trout, salmon, char, whelks (escargot) and marine plants.

Experiencing a Lobster dinner is a must when visiting Prince Edward Island. Lobsters are available in two sizes, canner (small in size) and market (larger with rubber bands on their claws).

1,300 inshore vessels operate as lobster fishermen, which is higher per capita than any other province with commercial fishery. Lobsters account for two-thirds to three-quarters of the annual PEI fishing income with a catch of approximately 20 million pounds each year.

To stabilize the market and protect the future of the industry, conservation practices are used such as minimum carapace size, escape mechanisms for undersized lobsters in traps and the number of traps. Plus the Island has been divided into three fishing areas; North Cape to East Point, South side of Kings and Queens Country from East Point to Victoria and the west side from Victoria to North Cape; with two fishing seasons: spring is April 30 – June 30, and fall season is August 10 – October 10.

Most famous for the “Blue Mussel”, Prince Edward Island has been put on the map.The mussel sector has grown from 100,000 pounds in 1980 to over 38 million pounds today. There are more than 125 growers who cover more than 10,500 acres.Currently there are 750 active oyster harvesters covering 6,500 acres.

Most are involved with rope-cultured mussels in cold, sheltered waters. Cultured mussels are grown on mesh socks that are suspended from buoyed rope longlines, strung tight and anchored in the water.The socks are filled with seed mussels and suspended from the longline. Harvest occurs year-round. Because of the suspension these mussels are cleaner, plumper and sweeter in taste than wild mussels.

Prince Edward Island mussels have become world-renown and are recognized as being gourmet, are not only sold in markets across Canada and the US, but in Europe and Japan too.

Prince Edward Island Oysters were judged the world’s tastiest oyster at the Paris exhibition in 1900 and is also a major contributor to the aquaculture sector. The most famous PEI Oyster is the “Malpeque”, branded since the 1920s, and was PEI’s first export product.

Oyster harvesters operate from small dories, lift the oysters from the seabed with toothed tongs. Like lobster fishing, there are two seasons for harvesting oysters; in the spring from May 1 – July 15 and in the fall from September 15 – November 30. The primary producing grounds are in the western and central area of Prince Edward Island.

The bulk of production originates from public beds. However, many of the beds are enhanced using aquaculture techniques, including seed collection, nursery culture and grow out. Most oysters are sold to off-island markets and are served typically on the half-shell in the retail and food service sectors.

Quick Facts:

  • Bluefin tuna are captured by both commercial and sports fishery methods.
  • Spring herring is used mainly for bait in the lobster fishery. Japan has provided the main market for fall herring products (roe) and a large proportion of the fall herring is sold for smoking.
  • Landings and values of snow crab, rock crab and toad crab are significant, adding a vital component to PEI's fishing economy.
  • Mackerel is canned and sold on the international market, sold for fresh bait, or packed as a food grade product which is shipped to Japan, Europe and the United States.
  • PEI is the Canadian leader in seaplant production with the major species being Irish Moss.
  • Scallop fishing is an important supplementary fishery on PEI.
  • Finfish species are also significant to the aquaculture.There are six fresh-water based farms involved in hatchery and grow-out operations in Prince Edward Island. Atlantic Salmon andRainbow trout are included in this category and are cultured for markets in eastern US and Canada.
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