BC Shellfish Aquaculture

BC’s shellfish aquaculture includes oysters, clams, mussels and scallops. These shellfish are an excellent source of protein and are high in essential minerals. They are also low in calories, carbohydrates, fat and cholesterol.


Oysters are sold live-in-shell but you can also purchase fresh shucked meat, frozen meat (with or without the shell) and smoked oyster meat.


Clams are sold live, frozen and canned.


Scallops are sold live or shucked.


Mussels are sold live and in MAP, as well as smoked and canned.

Farming the ocean is crucial to meeting the world’s food requirements. Aquaculture’s share of global seafood consumption was more than 50% in 2010 (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization).

At the current rate of seafood consumption (16 Kg per year – on a per capita basis), many are projecting a shortfall of 50-80 million tonnes of food fish by 2030. If capture volumes remain stable, the assumption is that the aquaculture industry (globally) will make up the shortfall. This means that aquaculture outputs could double over the next 25 years. (This does not take into account farming to produce supplements.)

Factors to Consider

  • Globally, the population is expected to rise from 7 billion to over 9 billion by 2050 - we are already at 8 billion.

  • The amount of arable land available per person globally is shrinking.

  • Dietary guidelines published in the Canada Food Guide (Health Canada) recommended at least two servings of oily fish per week in a healthy, balanced diet. This represents double the current North American seafood consumption habits.

  • More than 85% of Canadian aquaculture production is exported; the US is our largest export market for farmed shellfish.

  • British Columbia farms 46% of the oysters produced in Canada.

  • Canada’s total shellfish production in 2021 was 42,540 tonnes at a value of $122m.
  • By volume, mussels and oysters are the primary shellfish species cultured in Canada: in 2021 mussels accounted for 53% and oysters 40% of shellfish volume in Canada.

  • Canada is one of the significant producers of aquacultured oysters globally, particularly in regions like British Columbia and Prince Edward Island.

In global terms, British Columbia’s contribution to the production of farmed shellfish is small. British Columbia ranks as the 12th largest producer of Pacific Oysters, but only produces 0.12% of the value. Virtually the entire commercial harvest of British Columbia oysters is farmed and the commercial harvest of our farmed clams is steadily rising.

While production values increase, shellfish farming has not come anywhere near reaching its potential as a key economic driver for coastal communities in British Columbia. We have room to grow.

Shellfish farming is, by definition, green and sustainable.

The shellfish we farm are filter feeders that get their required nutrients by drawing sea water through their gills therefore shellfish farmers depend on clean, nutrient-rich water for their livelihood.

Shellfish Aquaculture

Shellfish aquaculture is the farming (i.e., cultivation and harvest) of aquatic invertebrates, such as oysters, clams and mussels. Cultivation implies involvement in the rearing process to enhance production, such as regular stocking and protection from predators. Shellfish farming has been a part of British Columbia’s history for over 100 years.  The systems used to farm shellfish have evolved from purely beach to technology-based systems that are designed for specific species and farming sites.

Shellfish begin their lives as larvae that mature into seed and/or juvenile animals. The farm cycle begins with the collection of larvae, which may be gathered in the wild or produced from hatchery broodstock (depending on the species and location).

Oyster larvae are kept suspended in tanks by circulating water until they transform into seed.
Oysters are frequently moved to a floating upwelling system (called a flupsy). Ocean water is circulated through the flupsy and juvenile animals, kept in trays, are able to grow to a larger size. When they are large enough, the young oysters are moved to be reared in a growout system. The most common growout techniques are raft, longline and intertidal.
Clam larvae are kept in hatchery tanks where they transform into seed.
Clams are spread on subtidal tenures where they burrow and mature to marketable size over a period of two to four years.
Scallop larvae settle and become juvenile animals
Scallops are transferred to deepwater tenures where they are suspended in a mesh bag or tray (suspension culture) or are seeded on the ocean floor (bottom culture). Maturation to marketable size takes six to 36 months in suspension culture and an additional 24 to 36 months for bottom culture.
Mussel larvae transform to juvenile animals.
Mussels are relocated to deepwater tenures where they are suspended in mesh socks to mature to marketable size over a period of 18 to 36 months.

Farmers acquire clam and oyster seed at various stages of its development – depending on the requirements of the tenure and farming operations. The seed is put into a nursery environment where it is nurtured into juvenile animals. Generally speaking, the juvenile animals then graduate to the growout phase of their development.