As salmon stocks continue their sharp decline, the Metlakatla-owned Coastal Shellfish Corporation stands out as a good news story on the BC coast in an otherwise ailing fishing industry. On September 12, the seven-year-old seafood operation received the VanCity “Sustainability Award” at the BC Food and Beverage Awards on September 24.
“We feel pretty good about our brand and the award confirms all the hard work that’s gone into creating it,” says Michael Uehara, Coastal Shellfish President and CEO. “We are the only First Nations-owned live scallop producer in Canada. We have the largest scallop hatchery in North America. Our new shellfish processing plant in Prince Rupert may be the only fish plant that’s opened up in Prince Rupert in recent years – all the others are closing down.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual BC Food and Beverage Industry Gala was held online this year to celebrate local BC food producers across the province.
“This award is a confirmation of the concept that Coastal First Nations had so long ago that their fisheries and regional industries had to be sustainable,” says Uehara. “Seeing this come to fruition with the Coastal Shellfish Corporation is the coolest thing. It means the vision Coastal First Nations had is not only achievable, it is the only way of doing things.”
The award recognizes the role of local food producers in supporting food security, an idea that Uehara says was central to CFN’s vision. “The trick was, could we find an industry that’s not extracting, that didn’t have a time limit on it, and was not going to run out at some time,” he explains. “I think what we’ve hit upon with shellfish aquaculture is the future of fishing. This is a zero-input food. There is no fertilizer, no antibiotics, and no freshwater used in the production of shellfish. They actually make the water cleaner than it was before.”
As award show guests, BC Agriculture Minister Lana Popham and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry both recognized BCFB producers for keeping local food supply chains strong during the pandemic.
Uehara acknowledges coronavirus impacts have been huge, but Coastal Shellfish continues to provide employment for Metlakatla members and move ahead despite the challenges. “We’ve kept everyone employed, which is really important,” he says. “Demand is exceeding supply, and we anticipate that to be the case for a while since there are very few suppliers.”
“Seeing this come to fruition with the Coastal Shellfish Corporation is the coolest thing. It means the vision Coastal First Nations had is not only achievable, it is the only way of doing things.”
Watch Michael Uehara speak about the sustainable efforts of Coastal Shellfish in the following video: