Aquaculture, or fish farming, is not a new phenomenon. It has been practiced for over 2,000 years, beginning in China where carp were raised in rice fields for royalty. Today it is the fastest growing food-producing sector in the world and accounts for roughly fifty percent of the world’s fish that is used for food.
- Aquaculture is practiced by both some of the poorest farmers in developing countries and by multinational companies.
- Aquaculture provides employment to more than 23 million workers around the world.
- Global aquaculture production has risen from 3 million tonnes of fish in the 1970s to over 60 million tonnes in 2012.
- About 567 aquatic species are currently farmed around the world.
A natural fit for Canada
Aquaculture is a natural fit for Canada, with the world’s longest coastline, the world’s largest freshwater system, and the world’s largest tidal range. It was first used to enhance natural stocks but is now an important contributor to Canada’s economy. In 2012, aquaculture accounted for 174,057 tonnes, or 17.4% of total fish production in Canada.
Over 8,000 Canadians are directly employed in aquaculture – most of them full time. An additional 8,000 jobs can be attributed to the aquaculture industry. Over 90% of all aquaculture-related jobs are located in rural, coastal, and aboriginal communities – revitalizing these communities by providing meaningful, year-round employment and a reason for youth to remain in their communities.
Salmon is the main species raised in Canada, with production centered on the east and west coasts. Other species include rainbow trout, mussels, oysters, and several species of marine algae.
Although aquaculture has been practiced by the Ontario government for stocking purposes since the early 1900s, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that rainbow trout farms were introduced into Georgian Bay and into Lake Huron, in the waters surrounding Manitoulin Island. There are now nine rainbow trout farms, most located on or near Manitoulin Island.
Rainbow trout is the main species farmed in Ontario, with 4,000 tonnes (8.8 million pounds) produced in 2014. Minor species, at 210 tonnes (462,000 pounds) include arctic charr, brook trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, baitfish, and tilapia.
The economic contribution of aquaculture to Ontario’s economy is $70 million annually. 185 Ontarians are directly attributed to aquaculture, with another 150 indirect jobs. Production is estimated at 4,600 tonnes (10.1 million pounds) for 2015.
Leaders in freshwater aquaculture
Ontario fish farmers enjoy access to new production technologies, an existing infrastructure, and highly skilled managers and workers – many with over 30 years of experience. Like other farmers, fish farmers are seriously committed to responsible environmental practices. They must comply with 23 different pieces of legislation and have land use permits to use the water in and surrounding their farm sites.
Fish need constant care and ideal living conditions in order not just to survive, but to thrive. Ontario fish farmers are proud of their track record of low mortality and minimal disease rates. Farmers use a variety of methods to monitor their fish’s health and habitats, such as daily diving, underwater cameras, and even ROVs (remotely operated underwater vehicles).
Rainbow trout need high energy, low phosphorus feeds in precisely measured amounts. Ontario’s fish farmers have worked with feed companies and university researchers for many years to develop optimal feed formulations.
The reality is: without healthy fish and good water quality, the farmers wouldn’t be in business.
Recreational fishermen know that the waters surrounding Ontario fish farms support healthy ecosystems and wild fish habitats. It’s a not-so-well-kept secret that fish farms offer productive, quality recreational fishing opportunities.