Tenacious Belgian immigrants pioneered Canada’s mussel industry in the 1970s


Charlottetown — Local fishermen laughed at Joe Van den Bremut when he first came up with the idea of ​​producing farmed mussels at PEI in the 1970s.

“They all said,’We use such things for fertilizer,'” he said in 2017.

Today, almost half of North America’s juicy supply of mussels comes from the island, generating more than $ 45 million in annual exports, second only to the state’s lobster industry. Throughout Canada, about 80% of the mussels sold in restaurants and grocery stores are grown in the island’s tidal rivers.

The Belgian immigrant Van den Bremut, who arrived in Canada in 1954, was remembered as a tenacious and innovative man who decided to give back to his adopted country on Friday. He died earlier this month at the age of 89.

“He was a very proud Canadian,” his son Henri said in a Friday interview from Charlottetown. “And he was proud that this was his legacy.”

Henri van den Bremt has decided that his father, an already skilled tobacco farmer on the island, must have a market for farmed mussels in Canada, an industry that has prospered for centuries in Europe. When I was a teenager. He tried to eat wild mussels scattered along the PEI coastline, but was usually soiled with sand or sand.

His first attempt to grow mussels failed when he was eaten by the wooden squid shipworm he built on the Cardigan River and later crushed into metric-thick ice.

And there was a lot of skepticism on the island.

“They said (mussels) were the trash they scraped off the boat,” Henri said.

However, senior Van den Bremt did not stop. “When he decided on something, he was like a bulldog,” his son said.

The solution was an innovative system that used a rope suspended from a water column by a series of buoys and fixed to the riverbed. The mussels themselves were placed in nylon stockings purchased from Norway. The “long line” system and related gear are still in use today.

In a 2017 conversation with then-Prime Minister Wade Macroschran, Van den Bremut said no one was interested in eating mussels at PEI when the industry was young. However, Montreal had a well-prepared market that quickly expanded to Toronto, Calgary and more.

“To be honest with God, I couldn’t feed the islanders mussels,” he recalled, recalling how humble bivalves quickly became a staple of seafood.

“I couldn’t grow them fast enough.”

At that time, the Montreal market was getting mussels from Maine. In Maine, a “bottom-cultured” harvesting method was used.

“It didn’t take long for the quality of the mussels (from PEI) to be much better,” says Reaming Murphy, who helped launch and run Van den Bremut’s business. “We have defeated them.”

Murphy, who retired from a long career in federal and state governments, said Van den Bremut’s innovation in the early 1980s was key to his success. Similarly, seed money from both levels of government helped when interest rates were above 20%.

“He was really the first person to try to commercialize the mussel industry,” Murphy said in an interview from Kensington on Friday, PEI.

“I want Joe to be remembered as a very kind person, a sensitive person who has a vision and follows it,” Murphy added. “Joe was an innovator and a continuous innovator.”

In the early 1980s, the island’s industry produced about 100,000 pounds of mussels annually, said Murphy, now an adviser to the aquaculture industry. Today, annual production reaches over £ 60 million.

In a statement Thursday, state fisheries minister Jamie Foxx acknowledged Van den Bremt’s “permanence and vision” of the fact that thousands of islanders are currently working in aquaculture.

Van den Bremut sold his mussel farm in 1991 and was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 for his success in both the tobacco and mussel industries.

“Joe lived a fulfilling life that left a legacy that would bring people forever joy,” said his death notice. “Not many people can claim that.”

Michael McDonald

Canadian press