Bay Enterprises Ltd.
Written by: Meg Mackay & The Afishionado Team
Bay Enterprises Ltd. is a family shellfish farm in Malagash, NS, run by the Purdy family; Charles, Nancy, and their daughter Rachel. Charles Purdy says his ancestors received their own shellfish farming leases in 1899; they have been fishing oysters in Nova Scotia ever since. “It’s not a job; it’s a life,” says Charles.
When the tide begins rising in Malagash Bay, Nova Scotia, Charles is getting ready to go out on the water. The Purdy family harvests oysters late into the fall, until the bay starts to freeze over. Oyster farmers have to dress for the weather in the colder months. Often wearing snowsuit coveralls and gloves, they head out onto their harvester, which looks like a big pontoon barge.
Out in the bay, you can’t see any evidence of the farm. Bay Enterprise oysters are “bottom culture”, meaning the oysters live and grow on the ocean floor. On the harvester, Charles steers the boat and lowers the end of a conveyor belt into the water. At the head of the conveyor belt, there is a series of pipes which shoot water under the oysters. This process lifts bundles of oysters from the ocean floor onto the conveyor belt by a blast of water. Charles picks the oysters off the belt once they’re above water and separates them into bins.
The best part of Charles’ day is when he finishes harvesting at sunset. “I’m coming in from fishing. I’ve got the boat loaded down, and the sun is just setting. It’s my favorite part.”
Once the oysters are brought to land, Nancy and Rachel Purdy clean them and break the bundles apart. “They’re growing naturally on the bottom, so they’re not perfectly perfect,” says Nancy. They sort the oysters by size and quality, and inspect each oyster, tapping them with a knife to ensure they are full, and looking for cracks or breaks on the shells. “Everything we do here is done by hand,” says Charles. “We go the extra distance. It costs us money to do it, but it certainly makes a difference in the quality.”
The Purdys also take extra care when they’re packaging their oysters, making sure every oyster goes into the box the proper way: cup down. “There are a lot of little things we try to do to make sure the quality is the very, very best that we can make it. The bay does its part, and we try to do ours.” says Charles.
Nancy’s favourite part of being an oyster farmer is being her own boss. “Being self-employed, you get to do what you want,” says Nancy. “You have the freedom to take off if you want to.” But, being self-employed comes with its own set of challenges.
This year has been particularly challenging for the Purdys. “It’s been a terrible year for oysters, with the restaurants closed down, and in other provinces too. It’s been a dismal year,” says Charles. A lot of their oysters are sold in restaurants, many in Ontario and Quebec. Due to both restaurant and border closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Purdy family will not sell all their oysters this year. The unsold oysters can stay in the water for another year, but there is some mortality every year in the spring.
While it’s been a hard couple of years, the Purdys have been able to get by. As well as oysters, the family also grows quahogs (clams), which has helped them this year as this market has remained relatively stable. They know that the pandemic has been hard on many small businesses, but the Purdys are up for the challenge. They are hopeful that things will look up.
Bay Enterprise Malagash Oysters and Clams can be purchased online for Halifax home delivery HERE, or in person at Afishionado’s Bedford retail shop at 275 Rocky Lake Drive Unit #10.