While I have slurped down my share of West Coast Oysters and fully support local food consumption, there are times of the year when our fine British Columbia bivalves are just not the best and actual days on end when they are completely inedible. Therefore, when I need to pop a few shells on these occasions, they then need to come from more distant seas.
I am also fond of food experimenting. I love trying new delicacies and letting my palate do the traveling for me, and I frequently seek a wide variety of oysters from all around our marine-filled planet. Oysters are from the family Ostreidae and the edible oysters mainly belong to the genera Ostrea, Crassostrea, Ostreola, and Saccostrea. Here in BC oysters are all Crassostrea, so if one wanted to try different genera, we must source from abroad. I haven’t yet got to them all, but with the arrival of fisherman Mark Urwin and his company 46 South Fish Co. from New Zealand, I can now at least check off the ostrea box on my oyster sampling spreadsheet.
I’m originally from New Zealand and while my accent is long gone my fondness for the country and the products it produces remains strong. I love NZ wine, lamb and kiwifruit, and we do see these NZ delights Canada. I can always get my hands on a jar of marmite, but until recently there wasn’t much in the way of New Zealand seafood other than the green lipped mussel (most always cooked and frozen) in our market until 46 South Fish Co arrived on our shores.
46 South Fish Co. is focused entirely on sustainable fishing that is responsibly caught and farmed. The Southern Ocean of New Zealand is known for cold, rough waters and the coastline is perfect for fish and shellfish breeding. The seafood is harvested by small boats and 46 South Fish Co. ensures that the catch is delivered right from the boats to the markets, meaning only the freshest seafood reaches us in Canada.
The oysters that 46 South Fish Co. has chosen to bring to our market are the Kaipara Oysters and the Tio Point Oysters. The Kaipara Oysters are the same genera as the Pacific Oysters and therefore the ideal way to compare how their merroir differs from that of our BC’s coastal varieties.
The Kaipara shells have deep cups and have a salty, creamy texture with hints of lemon and cucumber. They are grown in Kaipara Harbour in the northwest of the North Island where there is little human activity and exceptionally clean waters. Baskets are suspended on long lines that are exposed at low tide, allowing the waves from the afternoon sea breezes to tumble the oysters, giving them a deep cup and toughened shell.
The Tio Points are more like the French Belons and have a shallower shell with plump, firm meat and a salty sweet flavour with hints of minerality and a slightly metallic finish. They are grown in the Marlborough area and are native to New Zealand; in fact Tio means oyster in the native Maori language.
Where can you sip, slurp and sample these NZ gems on the West Coast? Currently our friends at Codfathers Seafood in Kelowna stocks them, in Vancouver you can pick them up from the Lobster Man in Granville Island, and in Toronto Diana’s Seafood Market. Vancouver’s Oyster Express brings them in frequently for those who prefer not to shuck at home and Rodneys in Toronto and Rodney’s Vancouver has them, and soon Rodney’s Calgary will have them on their menu. Don’t see them at your local seafood market or oyster bar? Feel free to put in a request with your server or fishmonger for next time. Mark Urwin from 46 South Fish Co. is keen to deliver.
For more information on 46 South Fish Co and NZ Fishing in general I posed a few questions to Mark Urwin, the man behind the company and a fifth generation fisherman.
What vessels does 46 South Fish Co deal with in New Zealand and how do they operate?
Urwin: We source fish from inshore vessels. These small vessels are important to local communities as they provide them with jobs and income. The vessels only get out 180 days a year due to weather. Most of the vessels either use hook and line or traps to catch their fish, but some of these vessels bottom trawl because it’s the only way to efficiently catch fish in the small window of weather. They use small light nets and only tow these nets in areas where bottom habitat is sandy with no ecological importance, and is more resilient than other habitat types to the impacts of fishing gear. Not all bottom trawling is bad!! I’ve worked on a trawler for 6 years. By-catch isn’t an issue because all the species are landed (by law you have to) and if you don’t have quota for any one of them then you don’t fish in that area at all, otherwise if you land a species without quota you incur a fine…a very large one…but not quite as large as the penalty for dumping fish overboard. EVERYTHING is accounted for in NZ waters !
Of the stocks of known status in 2012, 83.2 percent were described as not over-fished and have sustainable catch limits in place. These stocks represented 96.6 percent by weight of the fish brought to shore. For stocks considered to be over-fished, corrective management action has been or is being put in place to rebuild them.
How does the New Zealand Quota Management work?
Urwin: The New Zealand quota management system was introduced in 1986. To date there are 97 species groupings in the system which are divided into 629 individual management units. New Zealand law requires catch limits for every fish stock to be set at levels that will ensure their long-term sustainability. The Ministry of Fisheries rigorously monitors the amount of fish caught against these limits and financial penalties are enforced if too much fish is caught in any one year.
Mark Urwin with Jon and Marie Crofts of Codfathers in Kelowna and one of our more local oyster farmers!
How do you ensure 46 South Fish Co’s seafood arrives fresh to markets further away?
Urwin: We often pre-order later in the week so the boats know what to catch exactly. Fishing to market is a better way to fish than catch a whole heap then find a home for it. It means that when Jon Crofts at Codfathers (Kelowna, BC) gets his fish, it’s in prime condition! He orders on Friday, the boats catch it on Monday, pack on Tuesday and then the fish is flown overnight. The products arrive to market Thursday and look “gorgeous” in Crofts own words, as fish should!
What drives you to persist in promoting NZ Seafood?
Urwin: I sell the story and the product individually with respect and passion! I love telling the story behind it. I know it back to front because I’ve been involved with every part of fishing since birth! I’m from five generations of owning boats, and have worked with local management on sustainability in specific areas, such fishing, filleting, oystering, stapling boxes, packing fish, finding quota, leasing quota & of course politics!