It is against the odds that Andrew Dryden finds himself owning 8 oyster tenures (shoreline and deep-water farms) ranging the east coast of Vancouver Island from Cortes to Saltspring. As a first generation oyster farmer who grew up in the interior of BC he wasn’t privy to intergenerational knowledge and the learning curve has been steep.
After graduating from the Fisheries and Aquaculture program at Malaspina College, now Vancouver Island University (VIU), with a focus on shellfish and a memorable practicum on an oyster farm, Andrew was hooked on the industry. In his early 20’s he had his parents co-sign for a waterfront property and he remembers there was not a lot of faith in his success from the shellfish community. “We gave you about 6 months before you would fail,” confessed one of the big four processors on the island years later.
Evening Cove Oysters has been in production for twenty-three years. “And one thing that keeps me interested,” explains Andrew, “is that in the last 5 years oysters have gone from commodity to sexy.” A whole culture has risen up around the branding of oysters. Restaurants have them as a regular menu offering. An oyster shucker can cost over $20. There is something ‘cool’ about oysters, and this is in addition to the health benefits and sustainability of the bivalve. Demand is increasing.
“It’s an exciting time. Our struggle now is growing enough to be profitable.” And coming full circle, feeling the support of his alma mater, he joined the Seafood Business Accelerator (SBA) offered by the Centre for Seafood Innovation at Vancouver Island University. Evening Cove Oysters has the capacity to grow more, they have the ability to process more, they have the sales and now they need to put it all together with strategic guidance to scale-up.
Another interesting by-product of this program that Andrew has discussed with other participants is the potential benefit of getting their challenges heard by the right people. Regulations are a challenge in most industries but for small scale harvesters that are trying to grow, it can break momentum entirely. “If the final program showcase at VIU brings industry stakeholders and politicians into the room… just that makes the whole program worthwhile,” he tells me.
Andrew is at the stage of his business where he feels ready to take on partners to have a sounding board for progressive ideas and for growing a recognizable brand. He credits his general manager, Kala Mackintosh, who provides a huge amount of support and they are both clearly passionate about their product, “Oysters are a green, environmentally sustainable product, and we whole-heartedly believe oyster farming contributes to both food security and regional economic development.”
This article was written by Josephine Olivier and published in the Seafood Business Accelerator Celebrating Spring 2023 Graduates Booklet.
Island Coastal Economic Trust is honoured to have been working in close partnership with the Centre for Seafood Innovation project on the Seafood Business Accelerator program valued at over $186,000. The Trust contributed $60,000 to the overall budget.