David Nikleva – Below Sea Level Oysters

David Nikleva

David Nikleva has been living on Cortes Island working with shellfish for over 35 years. He is owner and manager of Below Sea Level Oyster Co. where his main focus is on oysters but his attention is also on buying and selling clams. His original interest in marine biology was a natural segue into the practical application of shellfish farming.

Below Sea Level Oyster Co. farms, harvests and sells to a federally registered processing plant. David spent his early business start-up years juggling oyster farming with teaching about it; First Nations Shellfish training program, Fishery Guardian training program through aboriginal fisheries strategy, consulting with Chemainus First Nations, and teaching at what was then Malaspina College. He is now a full-time, independent farmer and is working on new brand and marketing strategies.

There are numerous challenges in the shellfish industry, justifiable regulations around health and safety chief among them. Less justifiable, are the lengthy processes for licensing and amendments. David has been waiting four years for an amendment to his shellfish management plan. “With such a lengthy lag time between idea and putting it into practice, it is difficult to move forward and keep up with change. Makes you wonder how we are going to attract new entrants to an industry so hamstrung regulatory wise.” He wants to put a rack system on the beach and has other ideas for adapting to climate change challenges such as investing in an intertidal power pump to spray oysters down if there are high temperatures and low waters.

Cortes Island shellfish farmer Dave Nikleva

David began his career in aquaculture at Malaspina college which has since become Vancouver Island University (VIU). And now with decades of experience in both ocean farming and teaching about it he has returned via the Seafood Business Accelerator (SBA) offered by the Centre for Seafood Innovation at VIU. His focus is not only to refine his marketing plan, but to access industry experts around grant writing, packaging and supply chains and position himself for sustainable food production and coastal job creation.

Similar to other oyster farmers he holds a deep belief in the health benefits oysters offer both to our bodies and the coastline. Full of protein, micronutrients and calcium they also work to filter and clean the surrounding water, create barriers to protect estuaries and reduce erosion.

“It feels early in shellfish aquaculture here on the west coast,” David tells me and references the east coast settlers and Chesapeake Bay in the early 1900’s. “The oyster scene was impressive, the bay absolutely thriving with fresh oysters. There were carts and stands selling oysters on street corners.” David would like to see oysters as part of everyday diets rather than as a specialty item in expensive oyster bars. “Why wouldn’t there be an oyster bar everywhere you went…and wine from the local vineyard for a natural pairing.”


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.