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Canada's Atlantic aquaculture industry.

Atlantic salmon was Canada's most valuable species of farmed fish, with production worth C$14 million in 1987, close to the value of Atlantic Canada's herring or haddock fisheries. Mussel farming was worth C$3 million and it continues to grow despite an incident involving toxin in late 1987. Production of cultivated trout, European oysters, bay scallops, sea scallops, and other species is expanding and shows promise for significant expansion in the future. By 1995, Canadian fish farmers might be able to produce 45,000 t of fish and shellfish worth over $225 million.

Role of Government

The Canadian Government's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) plays an active role in Atlantic Canada's aquaculture industry. A key responsibility includes enacting and enforcing regulations. The expanding use of sheltered bays and inlets for fish farming created a need for regulations to avoid conflicts with commercial fishermen, navigators, recreational boaters, and others. The DFO is particularly concerned that marine farming and traditional fisheries coexist, and it works with other Federal ministries, provincial governments, and local municipalities to support and manage the orderly development o aquaculture.

Despite impressive growth in recent years, aquaculture is still a new industry which is rapidly developing. The need for scientific research remains critical. The intricate process of growing wild creatures in captivity requires constant effort to improve growing techniques and broodstock, control diseases, improve nutrition, and to deal with unforeseen problems--anything from a mysterious poisoning to the unexpected effects of a very cold winter. The DFO is assisting the industry by sponsoring research in all of these areas.

One of DFO's main aquaculture activities is preserving the health of fish stocks. The DFO Fish Health Unit, located at the Halifax Laboratory, enforces Federal Health Protection Regulations for both the Scotia-Fundy and Gulf Regions. Its job is to test fish for disease. All salmon, for example, going from hatcheries to cages have to be tested for enteric red-mouth disease, furunculosis, and bacterial kidney disease (BRD), the latter being a particular concern because it's believed to be transferable through the egg. Fish crossing international boundaries, provincial boundaries, or even being transferred from one water system to another must be tested. The regulations are stringent because most outbreaks of fish disease occur when fish are transferred from one site to another without proper controls.

The Fish Health Unit certifies both hatcheries and fish farms. Private groups and individual growers are building an increasing number of hatcheries in the Scotia-Fundy region, adding to the half dozen Federal salmon hatcheries which stock rivers and supply marine farmers with salmon smolts. The Unit investigates fish kills, checks for chemical and other environmental hazards, and monitors the approach of paralytic shellfish poisoning. This practical program is complemented by a group conducting research into fish disease such as furunculosis and BKD. At the Halifax Laboratory a team of scientists is exploring the different strains of these diseases and how and why they kill fish--essential information before they can be controlled or eradicated.

Aquaculture Programs

The center of Atlantic Canada's salmon culture industry is the Scotia-Fundy region. Conditions there are ideal for salmon farming; the flushing action of the tides, the upwelling of nutrients, suitable water temperatures, and protected sites have helped this region to become one of the best salmon growing areas in the world. Canadian production of farmed Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, totaled 2,800 t in 1987, and officials believe farmed salmon production will reach 27,000 t by 1990, making Canada the third largest producer of farmed salmon in the world. Responding to the need for information on aquaculture by new entrants to the industry, the DFO opened the Salmonid Demonstration and Development Farm (SDDF) at Lime Kiln Bay in 1986. The SDDF provides commercial fish farmers with scientific and technical information about culturing salmon in cages and demonstrates how a salmon farm works. It also conducts research and develops improved growing techniques. The farm receives financial contributions under terms of a Canada-New Brunswick Economic Resource Development Agreement. It is managed through the St. Andrews Biological Station, but is run as a working farm by a private company under contract. Scientists with expertise in salmon biology and culture, genetics, fish disease, nutrition, and marine engineering direct the SDDF's work along with an advisory committee composed of federal, provincial, and private sector representatives who ensure that the research is relevant to the needs of the industry.

The main emphasis of the SDDF research is nutrition. Various diets are tested, especially moist vs. dry formulations. Combinations of different feed mixtures at various stages of the salmon's complex growth are also examined. Testing includes different vitamin and mineral supplements. Presently, the nutritional analysis is done at the Halifax Laboratory of the DFO, but a nutrition laboratory is scheduled to open soon. Learning the physiology and biology of fish (how they work and how they grow) is another priority. In some experiments smolts have been manipulated to see if periods in salt water affect their "growout." One potentially useful discovery is that artificially extending daylight hours (especially between August and November) makes salmon grow faster. Other programs are designed to improve management techniques, evaluate sea cage systems, and to upgrade stock.

Associated with the SDDF is the Salmon Genetics Research Program (SGRP) jointly sponsored by the DFO and the Atlantic Salmon Federation, a private nonprofit conservation group. Scientists are trying to develop fish with improved disease resistance. They are also working to delay sexual maturation so that the fish keep growing instead of diverting energy for breeding.

Genetic research for characteristics suitable for better domesticated stock is only part of the SGRP's program. Scientists at the Atlantic Salmon Federation's research facilities near St. Andrews, are also working on "searanching," releasing smolts into the ocean in the expectation that they'll return to their place of birth as mature adults where they can be harvested. Unfortunately, less than 3 percent of these smolts return as mature adults (in Iceland, 20 percent return to spawn in their native rivers). In some rivers, however, there's a higher and earlier return rate suggesting that the salmon don't migrate as far in the ocean; it is possible that these fish might form the stock for sea ranching.

At the DFO Biological Station in St. Andrews, scientists are conducting an interesting experiment in which they are hoping to extend the "time window" when smolts can be released into salt water. This is normally only a couple of weeks in spring when the physiology of the year-and-a-half old salmon changes-their dark stripes become silver and they prepare to swim downstream. However, they die if they reach salt water too early or too late. A million smolts go into the ocean at that time, and it's a hectic period which taxes both hatchery and laboratory facilities since all the batches have to be tested for disease and transported within a very limited time frame.

Meanwhile, commercial salmon sea cage operations are being monitored by DFO scientists for possible pollution problems, especially from aquaculture facilities themselves (uneaten feed, chemicals, and fish waste). Most of the salmon growers in Atlantic Canada are concentrated in L'Etang estuary near St. George, where most of the 34 New Brunswick sites are located (there are six more in Nova Scotia). L'Etang is ideal because it combines shelter from the open sea with warmer winter temperatures--a rare combination on the Atlantic Coast. But scientists are concerned that wastes from the cage operations will create algal blooms that might adversely affect salmon growth or other marine life, especially if aquaculture facilities in the L'Etang estuary continue to expand and the area becomes more congested. Tests show that this is not happening yet, but nutrient and oxygen levels in the water are being carefully monitored.

Trout farming is the oldest aquaculture sector in Atlantic Canada. Total trout production in 1986 was about 2,400 t worth C$16 million. Rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss, and brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis are both raised commercially, frequently in conjunction with salmon fanning: About a third of salmon farmers also raise trout. There are a few large operations growing only trout, the largest being in Bras D'Or Lake in Cape Breton. But hundreds of freshwater operations have sprouted throughout the Maritimes, many for angling purposes. Trout reach "pan size" easily, but bringing them up to large sizes takes more sophisticated knowledge. Nutritional analysis and feed development have been done for trout as for salmon, and the same disease precautions are taken. Atlantic Canada's largest trout farm was opened in Prince Edward island (PEI) in the summer of 1988. The farm, a joint venture between Norwegian and Canadian investors, plans to market about 400 t of rainbow trout annually (about 200,000 fish).

The most widely cultured shellfish species in the Scotia-Fundy Region is the blue mussel, Mytilus edulis, grown by about 100 marine farmers along the coast in sheltered bays. In 1987, the Canadian production of blue mussel was valued at C$1.5 million. About half of these blue mussels were raised around Prince Edward Island. This industry has expanded at a hectic pace. The mussels grow quickly in the cold nothern waters which are their natural habitat, and seed is easily collected in the wild, as opposed to other cultured mollusks which require hatcheries. When cultivated mussels were first introduced to the market they were sold for the same price as wild mussels. When consumers realized that fanned mussels have more meat than their wild counterparts, the price for cultivated mussels doubled.

Provincial and Federal governments have helped with financing, technology, and other practical matters. Since mussels require only an artificial structure to grow, little research into genetics or nutrition is needed. The sudden and unforeseen toxic poisoning that hit Prince Edward Island mussels in late 1987, resulted in one of the most intense scientific efforts Canada has ever seen to identify the toxin (domic acid) causing the problem. The effort by Federal and provincial authorities underscores the importance of research in marine farming, especially of shellfish, for health protection. Blue mussel production in the late 1970's was about 10 t, but by 1986, Nova Scotians produced 1,400 tons.

High quality mussels are produced using mainly the longline systems of suspended culture. The mussel industry is composed of two general types of operation: Those producing significant commercial quantities of mussels and those growing less than 15 t annually. Collection of seed mussels for sale to growers is a new activity that is growing quickly. The mussel farming industry faces several constraints in the future which will require research and monitoring. These constraints include the capacity of estuaries to support mussel culture, the impact of mussels on the ecology of the estuary, the spread of paralytic and diarrehetic shellfish toxins, and the quality of the waters.

American oysters, Crassostrea gigas, are being grown successfully at sites along the coast of Nova Scotia. In 1986, harvests of oysters exceeded 3,000 t in Atlantic Canada. Canadian oyster farmers also harvested a small quantity of European oyster, Ostrea edulis. The European oysters were introduced in the late 1960's by DFO personnel, who nurtured them to the commercial stage. They grow well and the market is good, but expansion has been slow because of the shortage of hatchery capacity, a problem that should be gradually overcome as new private hatcheries add to the government and university facilities that served the industry in its infancy.

Early experiments with the native oyster in the Bras D'Or lake were biological successes, but were not commercial successes. Native oyster culture operations are concentrated in the Gulf Region. Because oysters hibernate in the winter, they can be harvested in the late fall and put in cold storage to force hibernation and kept for up to 3 months. Exporters can then take advantage of the high prices available in the European market during the winter holidays.

Some aquaculturists believe that the bay scallop will be Canada's next success story. The bay scallop, a small scallop introduced from the U.S. Atlantic coast, has been grown experimentally at selected sites in Nova Scotia with good results. One of its advantages is that it grows to maturity in a year. It's main disadvantage is that it does not tolerate harsh winter conditions. Bay scallops provide a far smaller meat than the sea scallop, but it is prized by the Japanese. Meanwhile, the Halifax Laboratory, which is equipped with a quarantine unit all live fish coming into the country must be quarantined), is hoping to bring in new stock to expand the genetic base of both the bay scallop and the European oyster. Atlantic farming of bay scallops began with only a small number of individuals and would likely benefit from expanded broodstock and improved genetic diversity. Sea scallops are also being evaluated for aquaculture. Scientists at St. Andrews are testing various kinds of suspension cages at Lime Kiln Bay near the SDDF, and are trying to learn if there's enough spatfall in Passamoquoddy Bay and the Bay of Fundy that could be gathered in the wild to support a scallop aquaculture industry. If not, development of this industry would be dependent upon hatchery production.

Lobstering is big business in Canada. In 1987, Canadian fishermen caught 35,400 t of lobster valued at C$264 million. Any program that can enhance natural stocks or raise lobsters in captivity is of significant interest to Atlantic Canada. A long-term pilot project at the St. Andrews Biological Station has shown that lobster can be grown and reproduced in captivity. The economics are difficult and attempts to grow them commercially have not yet been successful. Nevertheless, this research has had positive results. For example, researchers discovered that lobsters kept at cold temperatures will not molt or spawn, are resistant to disease, maintain their meat quality for a long period, and don't need feeding. This has provided the scientific basis for land-based lobster pounds which allow Canada to supply high quality lobster to international markets throughout the year. There is also continuing work underway by private lobster companies in cooperation with DFO to grow "canner" lobsters to market size.

A small number of halibut are being grown at the St. Andrews Biological Station and in a sardine weir on New Brunswick's Fundy Coast. Preliminary testing has shown halibut take well to confinement. They're considered a good candidate for aquaculture because of their high value and because, like salmon, the whole fish is purchased by the consumer, not just a filet. Larval studies are underway to see if species like striped bass, haddock, halibut, eels, and other marine fishes can be reproduced from the egg in captivity. This work is more basic than applied research and may not prove relevant to marine farming for some time.


Aquaculture in Atlantic Canada is a rapidly growing industry, with production growing steadily in recent years. The immense interest in aquaculture has lead the DFO and provincial governments to develop joint programs and legislation ensuring the safe and orderly development of the industry. Atlantic Canada has benefitted greatly from aquaculture through increased employment and exports and these benefits should continue to increase as the industry expands. By 1990, Atlantic Canada might be the world's third largest producer of farmed fish and shellfish if production goals are achieved.

(Source: IFR-88/94.)
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Publication:Marine Fisheries Review
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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