The first Canadian model aqua-farm demonstrating the viability of indoor fish rearing on the Prairies is now producing fish. But will it produce profits?
“There’s still a lot of things to be worked out yet,” said Rudy Reimer following a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house June 27 on his Warren-area farm where visitors heard more about the operational features of Watersong Farms.
It’s been three years this month since Rudy and his wife Leslie, owners of Riddells’ Roasters at Warren, sat in on a meeting in Manitoba where the province and a national organization representing aquaculture rolled out a proposal to build a demonstration fish farm in Manitoba.
Daniel Stechey, representing the Interprovincial Partership for Sustainable Freshwater Aquacul ture Development (IPSFAD), a national non-profit group representing the aquaculture sector in Canada, spoke in Portage la Prairie in 2008 on the federal provincial initiative aimed at building more confidence in the sector through erecting model farms across Canada.
The Reimers were intrigued at the opportunity for diversification and offered one of their farm buildings to become the test site.
Construction ensued on a 195-foot groundwater-fed raceway system for fish rearing. They took delivery earlier this year of 83,000 trout fingerlings shipped from a hatchery in Ontario.
All eyes will now be on them as they take off their first harvest of fish this fall and begin moving it to new markets. Their facilities have capacity to produce 130 tonnes of fish per year. The harvest plan is to produce about 5,000 kg of 1,200-gram trout biweekly year round. Production systems can be adjusted to produce fish weekly if demand is there.
Jeff Eastman, MAFRI business development specialist (aquaculture, gave visitors an overview last month of how the fish farm will operate.
The farm is a research data collection site to answer the many questions would-be investors and regulatory agencies will have about fish-farm operations, he said. Understanding the economics of running such a facility is a key part of performance monitoring in other areas such as water use and waste management. All the partners also have a vested interest in seeing this succeed as a commercial operation.
“At the end of the day, if we’re going to increase investor confidence a system like this has to be profitable,” Eastman said.
Reimer said the operation’s next challenge is securing processing facilities to move the trout to market. There is good market demand in Manitoba and they foresee no problem finding buyers for Manitoba farm-raised trout, he said.
“Manitoba is not set up for processing fish, at least not for this kind of market,” he said. They have a number of options to explore, he said, adding that onsite processing may be one. It would require additional investment in infrastructure, he added.
Stechey, with IPSFAD, was at Warren in June to see the new fish farm.
He said this is the first model Canadian farm to be built and go into operation under the initiative. The Reimers’ facility will be the only raceway system built. There are plans to erect two more systems of different designs.
These model farms aim to address all the challenges and questions around farming fish in Canada, said Stechey. Stechey has commented on other occasions that there is basically an “unofficial moratorium” on the industry in Canada due to lack of standardization and a need for answers to build confidence among regulators, investors and producers.
“We’re looking at future growth of the industry,” Stechey said. “In doing that one of the issues that came forward was the need for more confidence in the technology, the biology and the economics of aquaculture.”
– Daniel Stechey, Interprovincial Partnership For Sustainable Freshwater Aquaculture Development (Ipsfad)