There is something inherently absurd about food heists.
The image of criminals huddled at the docks—waiting for a shipment of maple syrup to arrive, instead of guns or drugs—really takes the edge away from whatever shady transaction is going down.
Yet the insane price of certain ingredients makes them the perfect target for enterprising thieves who can take advantage of the relatively low security around food.
Last weekend, police in Prince Edward Island, Canada launched an investigation into the theft of $15,000 worth of oysters. According to provincial police, the total loot is roughly 100 boxes of some of Canada's finest bivalves.
The heist seems to have been fairly well-orchestrated, with all signs pointing to a boat being used to steal the oysters from an underwater holding area on the Pinette river and then loaded on to a car in the wee hours of the morning.
Aside from the those details, the oyster heist remains shrouded in mystery. So we called the local RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) detail in charge of the investigation to get more details on how and why such a crime could take place.
"Oysters are big business and there is definitely money to be made here," RCMP Sgt. Howard Fitzpatrick told MUNCHIES.
One would expect almost 10,000 oysters to eventually end up in restaurants, but Fitzpatrick says the emphasis right now is on finding the culprits, not the oysters.
"The investigation is ongoing and we still haven't located the oysters. At the moment we're not really looking at restaurants. We're following tips and leads from the community, so the emphasis is more on the people right now and who could have accessed the oysters, which were still in the water when they were stolen."
Leslie Hardy is the owner of Hardy & Sons Oysters, a major P.E.I. oyster farm and supplier. He says that oyster theft is not that uncommon, or surprising, given the prices people are willing to pay for the Canadian bivalve.
"It's not that rare," Hardy says. "Oysters are big money. If you can sell them for a quarter of what they're worth, it's a good way to get quick money."
Hardy is also friends with the owner of the oyster farm involved. "I know this man quite well, he's a good man. He's a great fellow, he didn't deserve this. But this is not the first time this happens. It'll happen again. That's just life, boy!"
The oysters might be worth a lot, but unloading that many oysters will not be easy. "It's big money… If you can find someone to buy them!" Hardy says. "Whoever the culprit may be, if they came in here I'd catch on first thing that they were stolen and I'd report them. I wouldn't buy them."
So while 100 cases might sounds like a lot oysters, it's actually relatively little compared to other food heists that have taken place in Canada. There was the $100,000 honey heist that took place in Abbotsford, British Columbia a couple of years back which resulted in 500,000 bees and 3,500 kilos (7,700 pounds) of honey being jacked. The boldness of this crime led police to quip that the thieves were "probably not looking to, pardon the pun, liquidate the honey immediately."
By far, the most infamous food heist to go down in Canada in recent years was the great maple syrup heist of 2012, during which over $30 million dollars worth of liquid gold was stolen from the world's Global Strategic Reserve of maple syrup in St-Louis-de-Blandford, Quebec. Most of the maple contraband ended up in the US and eventually 26 people were arrested in connection to the heist but the estimated $18 million in profits was never recovered.
Investigators in Montague, P.E.I. are hoping to have similar luck in their investigation, but so far, no arrests have been made.
Both the investigator and the oyster farmer we spoke to were adamant about the motivation of the crime being economic. It doesn't matter what the commodity is. Whether it's guns, drugs or oysters there will always be criminals willing to risk jail time to make a bit of money. So next time you're slurping down an oyster, be sure to pour out some salt water for all of the oyster farmers who lose their hard-earned harvest to thieves.