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Testing The Waters

Can we fish in your barn? Do you feed your fish worms? A lot of people are curious about the silvery trout now swimming in a Warren-area barn that once raised chickens.

Owners Leslie and Rudy Reimer are happy to talk about what they’re doing. Fishing for answers on how to raise fish indoors is as much what this venture is about as it is producing fish.

The Reimers, who raise roaster chickens for farm gate sales, have retrofitted one of their barns with a 195-foot raceway, a production system for raising rainbow trout. They recently took delivery of 83,000 tiny fingerlings shipped from a hatchery in New Brunswick.

Their farm is now the site of the first model fish farm in Canada, and the result of a unique partnership struck between themselves, a federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) program and Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI).

Watersong Fish Farm will be both a commercial venture for the Reimers as well as a data collection site for figuring out best management practices for an intensive aquaculture operation in a Prairie environment.

“We were looking for diversification,” said Rudy Reimer. Their interest was piqued after meeting with representatives of a federally backed interprovincial partnership in 2008 proposing to establish a half-dozen model fish farms in Canada as a catalyst for more aquaculture ventures.

The $1.8-million venture will be cost shared by the federal government, the province, whose contributions include paying the salary of a full-time staff person to work with the Reimers, plus the Reimers’ own contribution towards operating costs and use of their barn.

Their job will be to manage all aspects of the operation and develop markets for the fish when they reach market weights of one and two pounds, say the Reimers.

They’re also essentially testing the feasibility of such a venture.

Need for a model farm springs from the fact so little is actually known and documented about indoor fish rearing, says Rudy. It’s been observed right across Canada that lenders won’t look sideways at anyone proposing such a venture.

Ongoing data collection will document everything from how fast fish grow in these environments to how much power, water is needed and what it actually costs to run a fish farm.

“Right now, where does anyone get the numbers?” he said. “That’s always been the problem with doing any kind of fish operation on a commercial scale. We need something like this to show it can be done.”

They expect to have their first fish for sale this spring, and will then have volumes to sell every couple of weeks. While they don’t have markets nailed down just yet, “we’re working on it,” he said.

They anticipate selling fish to many of their 1,200 chicken customers. They’re also in discussions with various wholesalers and distributors, and even the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation. These fish don’t fall under the corporation’s mandate, “but they’re interested,” he added.

Access to a continuous supply of fish raised in a quality-controlled environment should have appeal to buyers, particularly in food services, Rudy said. Food service providers can be reluctant to list fish on their menus because it’s frequently unavailable.

“Now they can get it all the time,” said Rudy. “Our goal is to have Watersong rainbow trout on just about every menu in Manitoba.”

Rainbow trout were selected for the project because of their uniformity of size and growth, he added. The fish raceway is so named because it resembles a liquid racetrack, with a starting gate at one end, where fingerlings go in and a finishing pen, or “purge tank” at the other. Their production rotation will require bringing in about 40,000 fingerlings every three months to replenish stocks.

The barn’s water source is a tapped aquifer 220 feet below ground. With a water requirement of 60 gallons per minute, they are believed to be the most efficient system in North America for water use.

They can’t show drop-in visitors around inside the fish barn due to biosecurity protocols, but as a model farm they will open to select tour groups, the Reimers said.

[email protected]

———

Weneedsomething likethistoshow itcanbedone.”

– RUDY REIMER

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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