Among the key ingredients for successful trout farming include clear and cold water, forward-thinking aquaculture and fish R&D, and skilled animal husbandry – and that’s just what I found on Manitoulin Island, Ontario during a two-day aquaculture tour.
Hosted by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) together with the Northern Ontario Aquaculture Association (NOAA), I was joined by 37 other tour participants from academia, all three levels of government, industry and the private sector.
Our tour started at the Alma Aquaculture Research Station. The facility primarily supports research activities of the University of Guelph and focuses on areas of breeding, engineering and system design, fish behaviour, health and welfare and nutrition among others. We saw research underway on rainbow trout culture, arctic charr and tilapia.
Rearing tanks at Alma Aquaculture Research Station stocked with rainbow trout.
Our tour guide gives us a close look at an adult male rainbow trout. What a big boy – the fish that is.
An incubation tray of rainbow trout eggs.
We closed out day one of the tour with a stop a the Blue Jay Creek Fish Culture Station which rears lake trout and brown trout for stocking the local lakes.
The next morning took us to Meeker’s Aquaculture Ltd. Owned and operated by Mike and Sharon Meeker, this was the first commercial cage culture farm on Manitoulin Islands and today produces between 3-4,000 tonnes of rainbow trout each year.
The tour was led by Mike himself (and his two sweet dogs – “big sooks” we were told).
Meeker’s employs between five and six full-time employees plus additional when the workload is heaviest.
Onsite at Meekers is a large composting operation that began as a research project. Processing waste from the local trout processing facilities combined with sawdust waste from local mills produces nutrient-rich compost in a very short time.
Marketed under the name Meeker’s Magic Mix, the fish compost is available from Home HardwareTM stores across Canada. The company is also currently working with the mining industry to use the product in reclamation projects.
A windrow of the compost product curing.
Tour group heads to see how the compost is processed and packaged.
The indoor processing and packaging facility for the compost means Meeker`s Magic Mix can be produced year-round.
Leaving Meeker`s we made our way to Cold Water Fisheries trout processing plant. Although no fish were being processed at the time, we had a great overview of the processing steps and the equipment used.
Our final stop was at North Wind Fisheries Ltd. Owner Dan Glofcheski warmly welcomed us with homemade muffins and local apples and drinks to start this tour of his rainbow trout farm. Opening in 1992, the farm produces approximately 225 tonnes of trout annually.
There are currently eight net pens operating at North Wind. (Now is a good time to mention the beautiful scenery on Manitoulin Island…)
Although laborious, hand-feeding ensures these little fishes are only fed until they stop eating. This saves feed (which is a large expense for farmers) and limits the amount of uneaten feed in the water.
Through this tour, I can see that aquaculture has a great place in Ontario. The deep, cold waters of Lake Huron provide an ideal environment for farming trout in rural communities that can benefit most from this year-round industry.
Unfortunately, while fresh, local food sources are becoming increasingly important to consumers, Ontario trout farms are only able to produce enough to supply about 50% of the trout consumed in Ontario – the rest is imported.
Adding more growing sites would be an easy solution however; a complex regulatory framework seems to be the obstacle along with a lack of consistent, science-based environmental monitoring programs.
Successful trout farming in Ontario, like most other aquaculture producing regions in Canada, requires an intense passion and commitment on the part of the farmer. Navigating clumsy regulations and policies while trying to grow healthy, nutritious farmed seafood is demanding but when all you are rewarded with in the end is the right to simply remain in operation – rather than grow – it must be very trying.
So the next time you select a Canadian farmed seafood product, feel good knowing that not only is it local, fresh and healthy but it was produced for us by farmers who are tremendously devoted to doing so.
A big thank you to our tour hosts. Steve Naylor from OMAFRA did a fantastic job coordinating this – no easy task given the number of us. Likewise, thank you to Karen Tracy of NOAA and to its membership – the farmed trout donated for the networking dinner was yummy!