Does the future of the fisheries rest on dry land?

Fancy some Manitoba cod? How about Saskatchewan salmon?


JR Rardon / Namgis Project

Fancy some Manitoba cod? How about Saskatchewan salmon? The idea of Prairie seafood may seem outlandish, but with soaring demand running headlong into environmental concerns over fish farms, some believe the future of the fisheries industry rests on dry land.

At the Cheslakees Indian Reserve near Port McNeill on Vancouver Island, environmental groups and the ’Namgis First Nation recently opened North America’s first commercial-scale Atlantic salmon farm based entirely on land. It’s already common for land-based farms to raise smolts, or baby salmon, before dumping them into ocean net pens. But the ’Namgis project mechanizes the entire fish-growing process from smolt to slaughter in a series of large tanks (using 98 per cent recycled water), covering about the same area as two Olympic-sized swimming pools. Every aspect of the fish’s environment is controlled, from water quality and temperature to light exposure and feed, all without the threat of predators or the risk of contaminating wild fish.

There’s clearly a market. For the first time ever, global production of farmed fish has surpassed that of farmed beef, according to a recent study by the Earth Policy Institute, and the gap is set to widen as demand soars. Yet Canada’s share of the booming global seafood market has shrunk by 40 per cent over the last decade, thanks in large part to changing legislation affecting ocean-based fish farms.

The $8.5-million ’Namgis project, financed in part by the federal and provincial governments, could help change that. It draws heavily on recent work by the U.S.-based Freshwater Institute, a research and economic development program. It found salmon can be grown in water with up to eight times the density of a net pen, in about half the time. There is less waste of expensive feed, and the fish require no vaccines, antibiotics or pesticides, despite a low mortality rate. “From a quality standpoint, it’s an excellent product that people will pay more for,” says research lead Steven Summerfelt.

The ’Namgis project says it expects to sell the fish at a 25 to 30 per cent premium over regular net-pen salmon. But proof will have to wait until the spring, and the first harvest of about 470 tonnes of fish. “The intent of this thing is to show the economics work well enough to attract private investment dollars,” says project vice-chair Eric Hobson. Expansion plans are in the works for the system to produce 2,350 tonnes of salmon annually, comparable to a net-pen operation.

There are concerns over the economics of the new industry. Ruth Salmon of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance argues only small-scale operations are seeing profits (she points to land-based farms growing arctic char, sturgeon and halibut). But proponents believe that raising healthy fish, close to markets, on a relatively small plot of land will make economic sense. Fish waste could also be sold for fertilizer, they argue, boosting profits. If the ’Namgis project proves those theories, fish farmers and environmentalists might finally find some common ground—perhaps even in the middle of the Prairies.


Does the future of the fisheries rest on dry land?

  1. I never understood why this wasn’t done in the first place….just fencing them at sea defeats the whole purpose of fish-farming

    • You do not understand, then, the purpose of fish farming.

      The purpose is to obtain fish.

      And to do so while expending less effort and expense per resulting kilo of fish than by the traditional fishing techniques.

      • The purpose is to obtain fish….large healthy fish. Fish that are higher quality, more plentiful, and a better product than just fencing in ordinary fish.

        Its also cheaper than paying a lot of fishermen.

        • While higher quality (by whatever measure) might be desirable, the reason to farm fish in pens is to obtain money on a regular and predictable basis.

          So rather than let the fish swim away to some uncertain fate (the uncertainty being apparent in the huge differences in salmonid returns from year to year), they keep them around, in natural seawater, until they’re big enough to sell.

          • Yes, tis

            Fencing fish at sea means you get the same small, polluted, likely diseased fish you do now.

            Land fish farming is value-added.

          • The size depends only on how long you keep them, and that’s an issue of price vs input costs.

            The pollution is the same as for wild salmon, since it’s the same sea water.

            But the purpose of fish farming is not to keep the fish out of their natural water.

          • Now you’re arguing just to argue.

          • I see you still haven’t grasped the purpose of fish farming.

          • LOL look in the mirror

          • Heh heh heh… if you still imagine that fish farming defeats the purpose of fish farming, you’re still delusional.

          • There is, unsurprisingly, nothing there about how fish farming supposedly defeats the purpose of fish farming.

          • I said Ciao….I don’t intend to argue with people who can’t read, and just want to argue.

          • The purpose of fish farming on land is to grow large healthy fish for sale. A production line so to speak.

            Presumably this leaves the rest of the fish in the ocean.

    • While the main obvious reason, pointed out by GlynnMhor, is to obtain fish – Isn’t the purpose also for sustainability? Especially when you look at Newfoundland and BC. But does it actually serve its purpose? Most fish that are farmed are carnivorous and require a lot of feeder fish. Green Peace and some other organisations made a good video discussing this idea.


  2. Big producers of farmed fish, like my counhtry – Norway, produces fish of horrible quality. It is mostly tasteless and the taste that can be felt is like the fish is rotten. So I advice you not to produce it the Norwegian way though.

    Regards Knut Holt


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