Tuesday, November 18, 2008

All this work for how much money?!?!

Bob and I continued to learn the ropes of oyster farming with Rick's help. Him helping us for a period of time was a part of our contract when purchasing the lease. I think he was trying really hard to make us think this venture was a sane one and something we could handle easily. In reality the lights were turning on for the two of us and the amount of work necessary to run our stinky little oyster farm was incredible! We certainly had not thought out the process of growing and harvesting some 60,000 oysters that were lurking under the rafts. For starters Rick had led us to think we would only have to turn up to work the oysters three or four days a month . He had also assured us that we would not have to attend the lovely oysters in the dead of winter. This was kind of important to me as I had zero desire to spend time at our "summer" cabin in the winter, and getting there by small boat in a howling winter wind and big waves was frankly scary. I now know he flat out lied about how much time he spent working the oysters. He had two suckers in hand and just did what he had to do! Reality is it could have taken him a year or two to find a buyer for the oyster farm. He had another full time job and had explained to us this was something he did on days off or before and after his real work. There is absolutely no way one human being, even manic Rick, could handle the work of growing 60,000 hungry oysters by showing up a few days a month. AND being present every month of the year is totally necessary. I will save the winter stories for later and get on to our first sale of some 750 dozen oysters which translates to 9000 oysters. Oyster numbers are always counted out by the dozen as that is how the farmer gets paid. So much per dozen. We were about to find out this is diddly squat per dozen in relation to work/time spent getting them market ready.

Our third trip up to the island to work with Rick was in the middle of May. He had contacted his main buyer and arranged to sell some oysters. I was pumped. Money for work sounded good to me. It was time for us to learn how to "harvest" and sell oysters. I should mention here that when we justified our buying the oyster farm , based on Rick's numbers, we had figured on earning some $10,000 - $15,000 a year from our oysters and this would be put towards cabin upgrades and boat maintenance. A tidy little project to keep us somewhat busy and earning some fun money while spending leisure time at the island.

Rick's buyer of choice was a young Chinese lady who owns a seafood processing company located in Vancouver. Our oysters were going to be flown all the way to Singapore. I loved this idea. There was some magic to pulling the tasty oysters out of the waters of Blind Bay, Nelson Island on the west coast of Canada early one fine spring morning and them being eaten and enjoyed by hundreds of Asian oyster fans one day later. The trick was how to get the oysters out of the water, sorted into "size" piles, bagged up, boated over to a pick-up location where they could be loaded onto a truck and shipped down to a processing plant in Richmond. Once again this involved heaps of work and much more time than we had counted on. We hauled up stack after stack of oysters and Rick had us sorting and bagging at a pace that hardly left time for breathing. Sorting the oysters by size is a real pain in the butt. You have to eyeball each one and decide very quickly what pile it should be tossed on. This particular day we were working on extra small, small and mediums. Extra smalls measure out at two and a half inches to three inches, smalls should be three to four inches and mediums about four to five inches in length. Then there are the "ugly" oysters or those that ended up growing into weird shapes and are not acceptable to most buyers. These have to be tossed on to another reject pile and end up being food for the grower . Needless to say oyster farmers eat a lot of funny shaped oysters. We ended up taking two days for this work with half of the shipment being kept in shallow water close by our beach property to retrieve when we had the entire load ready to go. When it was time to move the oysters Rick used his small metal boat to haul the oysters over to a cove close to the Saltery Bay ferry terminal while we followed behind in our boat. The weather was warm and the seas fairly calm ,and with superman Rick along the moving of the oysters to a waiting truck didn't seem to be much of a challenge. It never dawned on me that this kind of trip could be fraught with real danger and yes we found that out later too. Loading the heavy bags into the truck was another job for real men and me. The boat with the oysters was pulled onto a beach boatramp and one hundred and fifty bags that weighed about twenty pounds each were hefted up and into the big transport truck. Once this was done I knew I would have to quit oyster farming before hitting sixty or we would have to try and find some young bucks to do some work for us. Something that would not seem so hard to do but it turns out to be almost impossible given the amount of money earned while farming oysters.

Bob and I recieved our first cheque a few days later. The total amount did not seem that bad. $2,200 . It was when we looked back and realized how long it took to grow the oysters and how much time and effort it had taken to get them to market size the big light went on. On this occassion we had made about $2.93 per dozen oysters! We worked out we were doing some of the hardest physical work we had ever done in some of the toughest conditions for approximately 50 cents an hour.

No comments: