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The knives come out on Sparks Street as MPs shuck away on World Oceans Day

Written by Ron Eade, Food Journalist

Originally published on roneade.com

Rarely do you see a gaggle of Members of Parliament from all parties line up behind a table to shove stubby knife blades into the backsides of molluscs. Well, actually, I don’t really know if oysters have backsides, but I’m betting if someone gave me a sharp poke in the nether regions I’d be tempted to spread eagle like a clam, too. Assuming I had a hinge to pop.

MPs from all parties buckle down to shuck oysters Tuesday at the first Oceans on Sparks event recognizing Ocean Day, to support sustainability and the environment.   © roneade.com

MPs from all parties buckle down to shuck oysters Tuesday at the first Oceans on Sparks event recognizing World Oceans Day, to support sustainability and the environment. © roneade.com

Which was exactly the point Tuesday as WWF-Canada organized its first MP Shuck Off Challenge to mark World Oceans Day, proclaimed in 1992 by the Canadian government at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio.

Oddly, people these days seem more obsessed about gluten than they are concerned for the future of what covers 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface. We throw garbage into the sea, we spill oil in it, we torpedo ships and lay sea mines in it, we leak radioactive junk into it, we overfish using drag nets to the brink of extinction. The idea of World Oceans Day is to at least raise awareness of sustainability and how important the aquatic resource is because, one way or another, we all have a vested interest — even those who live inland.

For the first time, WWF-Canada brought the oceans to Sparks Street where the MP shucking contest attracted nine contenders, despite on-and-off rain. Joining me at the judges table was Gail Shea, minister of fisheries and oceans.

“Canadians in central Canada also have to show we care about seafood,” says David Miller, CEO and president of WWF-Canada.

“So it was very important for me to focus on producing a quality event, quickly. We had a great turnout, the MPs were engaged, and for us it’s a fun event for a serious purpose — to ensure our oceans thrive, and that our communities that depend on them thrive as well.”

The shucking contest was organized similar to the annual event at ByTowne Oysterfest, scheduled for June 29 this year in a parking lot beside The Whalesbone Sustainable Oyster & Fish Supply on Kent Street.

Sustainable torched scallops with XO sauce, Juniper Farms radish and Thai basil, lime leaf served at the MP shuck-a-thon by chefs Matt Carmichael and Gordon Holley of El Camino on Elgin Street. © roneade.com

Sustainable torched scallops with XO sauce, Juniper Farms radish and Thai basil, lime leaf served at the MP shuck-a-thon by chefs Matt Carmichael and Gordon Holley of El Camino on Elgin Street. © roneade.com

But where experts competing at Oysterfest must shuck exactly a dozen oysters from 14 supplied, MPs had to finish only six from eight supplied after getting a quick how-to lesson from experts from Whalesbone. Contestants were penalized for each oyster that was mangled, or were not severed clean from the shell, or contained bits of grit or broken shell. Happily, none showed evidence of blood from an injured shucker (hey, it sometimes happens).

For the record, the overall winner taking everything into account was Gerald Keddy from Nova Scotia, although Wayne Easter of Prince Edward Island had the best time at 2 minutes 10 seconds. (Incidentally, that compares to roughly one minute that it takes a professional to shuck a dozen oysters at Oysterfest. Just saying.)

MP Gerald Keddy picks up a few shucking tips from The Whalesbone’s Andrew Gilbutowicz. © roneade.com

MP Gerald Keddy picks up a few shucking tips from The Whalesbone’s Andrew Gilbutowicz. © roneade.com

Other honourable mentions went to Fin Donnelly from British Columbia for being the most careful; Deepak Obhrai from Alberta as most enthusiastic; Rathika Sitsabaiesan from Scarborouogh with best presentation.

Later, a competition among three professional shuckers, all from Whalesbone, was won by Pete Peter McCallum at 58 seconds, followed by Joshua Bishop with 59.6 seconds and Andrew Gilbutowicz at 1 minute 15 seconds.

“You could see the MPs, particularly the ones from PEI, were pretty experienced,” Miller said.

“So this event, while fun, does have a serious side to it.

“We are an ocean country and if we don’t support sustainability then the economic health of our coastal communities is at risk. That’s why it was important that MPs were here.”