Catch and Release
The Deep | October 2017
From the Bay of Fundy to Boston, a longform journey into the short-sighted politics and antiquated economics holding back Atlantic Canada's culinary culture.
A freshly shucked oyster is a miracle, with few more miraculous than a Little Shemogue. Small and slightly greenish, firm and creamy, sweet and complex with a bracing minerality, I first tasted one at a trendy seafood restaurant in Portland, Maine in 2014. Raised just off New Brunswick’s Tormentine Peninsula, the “Little Shem” is characteristic of the top-quality seafood that has earned Atlantic Canada an international reputation. Enthralled, I knew this oyster would make the perfect snack at a holiday party the following year. How hard could it be to buy some?
Pronounced shem-uh-gwee, from the Mi’kmaq name for the forked river running into the Northumberland Strait in southeastern New Brunswick, the oysters are packed by the Little Shemogue Oyster Company, only two hours from my home in Fredericton. Reaching then-general manager Paul Firminger on his cellphone one afternoon in November 2015, heavy machinery roared in the background, and I could tell he was definitely in the middle of something more pressing. For about 15 minutes he explained why he wouldn’t sell me the oysters I wanted. The problem was distribution. He’d sell them off the company’s doorstep, but otherwise his entire inventory was destined for Boston, the epicentre of the North American seafood trade. I accused him of provincial disloyalty; Firminger maintained he was a proud New Brunswicker.