October 7, 2021
Honouring a Pioneer in the Mussel Industry
Mussels play an important part in Canada’s food island story as islanders take great pride in our world-famous seafood. It’s just in our nature. There is no wonder why 80% of Canadian Mussels are from Prince Edward Island. Our mussels are unique and pristine just like the beautiful waters that nurture them.
Growing mussels in PEI
Have you ever been curious about how it all started on P.E.I? We all see the shimmering blue black mussel shells that wash up on the beaches. Joe Van Den Bremt, a Belgium immigrant, a visionary, and pioneer in the mussel industry played an important role in cultivating the future of the mussel industry on Prince Edward Island. It took a lot of tenacity, grit and resilience in this passionate pursuit to bring the European mussel experience to PEI. The Food Island Partnership met with Agnes (Joe's wife) and Henri (Joe's son) Van Den Bremt to learn more about their family’s pivotal role in the North American mussel industry.
Joe was determined to share his love of mussels across Canada despite the many challenges along the way. He wanted to offer Canadians the same premium quality he experienced back home in Belgium. Year one challenge - using rafts like he'd seen used in Spain. This worked well in Spain, but this proved to be a challenge on the island as the rafts did not last very long. Determined to grow mussels he then created the first long line system as shown in the image above and this proved promising. Year two challenge - the ice became a bigger problem as it latched onto the buoy and dragged the lines to shore. He was not going to give up. He then decided to try and sink lines under the ice in cold winter months. You can imagine cutting into thick blocks of ice as you felt cool winter breezes in cold winter months to do so. After many challenges he found success. Success included creating the first on PEI "declumper" machine made locally which helped separate the mussels brought in on the lines. Success rarely happens in a straight line.
Henri shared that the best advice he ever received from his dad was “if you believe in something stick with it, and hang in there. You can turn it around if you hang in long enough." Henri thinks Joe would tell anyone who wants to chart a new path in industry to “learn from other's mistakes, don't be shy to reach out to government for support, his dad did that too, think carefully when innovating, and learn as you go." In business for yourself not by yourself Food Island Partnership connects and supports many food industry entrepreneurs in their passionate pursuits. For more info on PEI's Food Cluster and programs to help entrepreneurs thrive click here.
Joe Van Den Bremt, passed away September 2021 and leaves behind a legacy that we can all be proud of. Click here to read more about Joe in the news. The next time you enjoy PEI mussels remember Joe and his important role in getting premium quality mussels onto tables throughout Canada.
*Photos courtesy of Agnes Van Den Bremt
Prepared By Crystal MacGregor for Food Island Partnership.