Automated oyster shucking: Innovative seafood hub set to expand in Port Alberni | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Automated oyster shucking: Innovative seafood hub set to expand in Port Alberni

Port Alberni, BC

The Dock+, a thriving seafood hub in the heart of Nuu-chah-nulth territory, has secured roughly $4 million in funding to break ground on an exciting 3,000-square-foot expansion project that includes the integration of High Pressure Processing (HPP) technology.

A partnership between the Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA), Nova Harvest Ltd. and Huu-ay-aht First Nations (HFN) Fisheries LP, the expansion project received a $2,995,786 grant from the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Food, with the three partners contributing a combined $1 million in equity to top the project off.

HFN Group of Businesses Chief Executive Officer Patrick Schmidt says The Dock+ joint venture builds on a three-year partnership with oyster farming company Nova Harvest.

“It takes time to grow them. Right now, we want to target this year to have eight million oysters in the water,” said Schmidt. “We’ve ramped up from one million (oysters) two years ago. The idea would be those would start being harvested in 18 to 24 months. There’s kind of a lag time between seeding to farming to processing.”

J.P. Hastey, president of Nova Harvest Ltd., says the goal is to position oysters so that they are more broadly consumed and available to retailers.

“We’re growing enough product on the farms so that you can build out that processing capacity for getting oysters into new markets,” said Hastey. 

To build a more efficient oyster processing plant, Nova Harvest zeroed in on a $1.3 million HPP commercial food processing machine imported from Sweden that has the ability to shuck oysters.

“It can apply up to 60,000 PSI, what is also known as cold pasteurization,” explained Hastey. “It doesn’t disrupt any physical qualities, it maintains all the nutritional qualities and you don’t have to add any mechanical or chemical components when processing. It’s simple, you press them under pressure and it releases and that separates the shell from the tissue.”

“It’s not just oysters that this machine is built for,” Schmidt went on to note. “Most of the salsas that you eat have gone through this. It kills pathogens on food. We envision that this machine will be able to service other food products. If someone comes up with something and they want to try it out, we’re game.”

They told the Ha-Shilth-Sa that The Dock+ will be one of the only locations in Western Canada to own a HPP commercial processor.

“This will be the first one in Western Canada that is a dedicated seafood unit,” adds Hastey.

Shelley Chrest, PAPA’s chair of the Board of Directors, expressed gratitude to community partners for their instrumental support in shaping The Dock+ project.

“We want to acknowledge the support of our community partners, including the City of Port Alberni, Island Coastal Economic Trust, and our local MLA and MP in developing The Dock+,” said Chrest in a media release. “This expansion will be instrumental in actioning the Port Authority’s vision of developing and supporting a local and regional seafood hub, while continuing to support small businesses and providing well-paying jobs in the community.”  

Hastey says that once the HPP machine is up and running, it will likely create employment for over 20 people.

“Having the (HPP machine) will allow opportunities in shellfish aquaculture to develop and expand. Having that capacity in Port Alberni is really going to be important for anybody in the aquaculture production side. It’s a piece of machinery that adds a strong foundation to the sector,” he said.

PAPA’s Manager of Marketing, Communications and Public Relations Carmela Ferro says The Dock+ expansion will be great for the community.

“It’s keeping jobs locally, it’s allowing people to stay close to home and creating those economic opportunities,” said Ferro.

PAPA, HFN Fisheries and Nova Harvest have an opening target of spring 2025 for the expansion project.

In addition to being a seafood processing facility, The Dock+ also rents a commercial kitchen.

“If you have an idea for a start-up business that involves food, The Dock+ is open for you to make your dreams come true — big and small scale,” Ferro notes. “Even if someone wants to make pizzas for them to freeze for themselves and they need a bigger kitchen, they can become a member."

Annual membership is $100 for new members and it’s $18.50 per station per hour during prime hours (9a.m. to 3p.m.) and $15.50 per station per hour during non-prime hours.

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