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A Jewel of an Island

They call Canada's smallest province a "Jewel" of an island. Prince Edward Island, commonly called PEI, is located in the Gulf of Lawrence, north of Nova Scotia, and east of New Brunswick.  My parents and I visited Prince Edward Island in August 2011. I had visited PEI the previous year, when I traveled to Nova Scotia to do some FAMACHA© workshops.

Prince Edward's Island is about three things: fish (seafood), potatoes, and tourism.


Fishing and aquaculture


There are two lobster seasons in PEI: spring and fall. The spring season accounts for approximately 80 percent of the catch. You must have a commercial license to catch lobsters. The licenses are very expensive, worth as much as $400,000. I understand why many of the lobster boats bore names such as "Can't Afford" and "Almost Paid."


According to one fishermen we spoke to, lobsters pay the bills, while the other fish that are harvested provide the profit for the business. Unfortunately, we left the day the fisherman were setting their traps for the fall lobster season. We were lucky enough to see a boat of craps being brought into the harbor.


In Charlottetown, we took a harbor cruise to learn more about lobstering. After the cruise, we became inquisitive about the life cycle (and mating habits) of lobsters. After all, I am an animal scientest. I needed to know how baby lobsters are made.


Lobsters grow by molting, the process by which they wriggle out of their shells and simultaneoulsy absorbing water, which will expand their body size. Molting will occur about 25 times in the first 5 to 7 years of the lobster's life. Following this cycle, the lobster will weigh approximately 1 lb, "market size."
After reaching adulthood, male lobsters will molt once per year, females once every two years.

Mussel farming
Mussel farming captured our interest. According to the PEI Aquaculture Alliance, there are 130 mussel farmers who farm about 11,000 surface acres. Mussels are farmed during every season, including the winter.


A mussel farmer's production schedule usually begins in the spring with seed collection. Seed collectors are usually frayed pieces of rope or plastic mesh. They are attached to a buoyed line and suspended vertically. Mussel larvae will attach to the collectors. To quote one mussel farmer, "mussel larvae will stick to anythng!"


By the fall, the mussel seed will have grown to a size of 5 to 20 mm -- time for "socking." The collectors are hoisted from the water and the seeds are stripped from the collectors, declumped, graded and sorted into uniform sizes, before being placed into plastic mesh sleeves called "socks". The socks containing the mussels are hung from long lines, approximately six feet below the water's surface to avoid ice damage.


As the seeds grow and the mussel socks gain weight, the farmer adds flotation to the lines. The lines and socks are inspected regularly to make sure the mussels can access food and are not being eaten by predators. It takes 12 to 24 months for mussels to reach market size -- about 2 inches.


Mussels harvested in the winter are the best, "meatier!" Specialized techniques must be used to harvest mussels from frozen waters. Chain saws are used to cut through the thick ice. A scuba diver submerges and locates the end of the long line, pulling it through a portable winch. During other times of the year, mussels can be harvested in open water in a boat equipped with a hydraulic winch.

Unfortunately, we learned about mussel farming mostly by talking to the locals and viewing videos. We saw many acres of mussel lines, but did not experience any actually farming practices. We had mussel chowder. It was delicious. My first time eating mussels.



This article was written in 2015 by Susan Schoenian.

Sheep and goats

Despite being a small island in both geography and population, Prince Edward Island is home to three businesses of interest to sheep and goat owners: MacAusland Woolen Mills, Belfast Mini Mills, and The Great Canadian Soap Company.


MacAusland Woolen Mill
MacCausland Woolen Mills, located in Bloomfield on the Island's western side, has a rich heritage. It is one of the island's oldest family-owned businesses. It started out as a saw mill in 1870 and began making woolen yarn in 1932. Woolen blankets became the mill's specialty in 1932.


Today, many wool growers, including those in the US, ship (or take) their wool to PEI for custom spinning and weaving. The mill also buys wool from growers and sells their own MacCausland brand blankets, yarn, and other products. Internet sales are a significant part of the mill's business.

MacAusland Woolen Mills is open for tours. It goes without saying that the mill has an old fashioned charm. We enjoyed meandering through them mill, as the employees went about their work.

Belfast Mini Mills
Belfast Mini Mills is aptly located in Belfast on the island's eastern side. It specializes in developing mills for exotic fibers such as alpaca, mohair, cashmere, and qiviut (the wool of muskox).


Great Canadian Soap Co.
The Great Canadian Soap Company started as a means to utilize the milk from the owner's small herd of dairy goats. Little did they know that soap making would turn into such a booming business. The Great Canadian Soap Company specializes in goat milk soaps.

One of the most important things we learned about the Great Canadian Soap Co. is that most of the "soap" we buy is not really soap.

"Spud" Island

Another unique place of agriculture interest is the Prince Edward Island Potato Museum, located in O'Leary, not far from MacCausland Woolen Mills. It's the only museum of its kind in the world. There is a giant sculptured potato at the entrance to the museum, which depicts an interesting display of the potato industry.

Potatoes are PEI's major cash crop, accounting for more than fifty percent of the island's farm receipts. PEI is Canada's leading potato province, producing approximately one-third of the nation's potato crop. PEI is one of the world's leading producers of seed potatoes.

Potatoes are the world's 4th most important food crop. Despite the bad rap, low carb diets give to potatoes, they are one of nature's richest sources of nutrient.

In PEI, there is a government-mandated crop rotation that limits the frequency of potato production on the same piece of land. The typical three year crop rotation includes potatoes, cereals (oats or barley), and forages (usually red clover). While no farmer likes to be told what to do, a three-year rotation increases potato yields while reducing run-off. According to sources on the internet, the previous "voluntary" crop rotations were not working.


My parents and I highly recommend PEI as a place to visit. My mom has done a fair bit of travel in her lifetime, PEI is her favorite place.  My dad loved the small fishing villages.


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