By Andrew Campbell
Fish farming can be a complicated topic. After all, people tend to prefer the idea of wild caught fish. But the demand for fish means that solely catching fish in the wild will lead to overfishing, which is unsustainable. That’s where fish farms come into play. In places like British Columbia, Atlantic Canada, and in the Great Lakes and Georgian Bay areas of Ontario.
But where do the fish for these farms come from? One family in Ontario is helping to supply Ontario’s fish farmers with over 6 million small fish that will then be raised in lake waters before ending up on ice in a grocery store. The process of breeding fish and raising them by the hundreds of thousands is one of the most fascinating places to see and learn more about. Let’s tour Cedar Crest Trout Farm with Arlen Taylor who is a second-generation fish farmer.
Hi Arlen, Let’s start with the wall mural on your building that shows the process of trout farming. Can you walk us through it?
We have an artist’s depiction of what we do here at Cedar Crest Trout Farm. We are trout fish breeders, which means we raise trout for other fish farmers. The process starts when our breeders fish (female) go into heat and produce eggs. The eggs are fertilized and develop into what is called eyed-egg, which is an egg that is nearly ready to hatch. Once the egg, hatches the juvenile fish are called sac-fry. (fry is a juvenile fish) At this stage, the fish have a yolk sac that will be absorbed. When that happens, they go on to become a fingerling, which is our prime market.
Once they’re a fingerling size (between 6 to 10 inches or 30 to 100 grams–about a finger’s length long), we will send them out to trout farms in Georgian Bay, Parry Sound and Manitoulin Island. These net pen farms raise them to be about 2.5 to 3 pounds, sometimes a little bit larger. That’s the size you will find in your grocery store.
How did you get into fish farming?
I’m the second generation. My dad was crazier than me. He started in 1969 and we built our trout farm facility in 1995. Since then, the market has truly developed, and we are starting to grow as an industry here in Ontario through net pen and indigenous partnerships on Manitoulin Island. We expanded in 2011 by buying two other facilities and again in 2014 we bought another facility. Today, Cedar Crest Trout Farm has four facilities raising about 6 million fingerlings for the net pen market.
Each year you send 6 million fingerlings to net pen farms which are then going to raise them.
Our cost of operation is very expensive, so it is more economical to raise the fingerlings in the net pen farms. At those farms around Georgian Bay, Parry Sound and Manitoulin Island, they’re not pumping water and they’re not having to add the extra aeration that we need to. It is more efficient, and they can raise the fish to market size better and faster.
As a breeder, you can do this process better on the land because you have more control, is that right?
Yes. We have more control when the fish are immature so that we can prevent disease issues and we can improve their overall health in smaller rearing units before they go to the net farms.
These fish are moving fast! How many fish are in this tank? How old are they? How did they get here?
There are 16,000 fish, both males and females in this tank. They are about 8 to 9 weeks old. They were bred by artificial insemination, then hatched and now they are in these troughs.
How do you artificially inseminate a fish?
We put them in an anesthetic so that they fall asleep. This is so we are not hurting them at all. We squeeze them gently and if the eggs are ready, they start to flow out of the trout. Rainbow Trout spawn once a year and start spawning at 3 years old. We’ll spawn them during that time, once a year over a six-week period. We have to go through the group every two weeks to make sure that their eggs are ready. Each female will give us anywhere from 5,000 to 14,000 eggs depending on the family and genetics behind them.
The eggs from the female trout are artificially inseminated and then put into incubators to rest. The incubators mimic the current of a river and a spawning bed. The eggs hatch at 42 days. At 62 days, we bring them to these troughs (shown in the video) and we allow three to five days for the fish to swim up and we teach them how to eat food at the surface of the water.
How do you teach a fish to eat food?
We make sure that there is always a little bit of feed on the surface of the water for the fish. They’re naturally curious and they want to pick up those small things on the surface of the water. We always have a little bit of feed to pick at on the surface so that they can understand to go up to the top to get food.
Outside to the general growing area and the raceways!
Your employee, Hunter looks like she’s swimming right now… What is she doing?
She is actually crowding the fish in the raceway using a fence that is the width of the raceway. Right now, she has approximately 150,000 fish which is half of the raceway in her pen. These 150,000 fish are crowded toward a hose with a fish pump that collects water and fish. The fish safely travel up through the hose, up through the pump and then they go through a counter to ensure that there are 150,000 fish. This machine counter is counting between 7,000 and 10,000 fish a minute. This machine also helps us to move the fish to ensure there is no overcrowding as they grow.
Is this machinery meant for fish?
Yes, we are not hurting the fish. This is built so that the fish are never out of the water. They’re breathing. They’re swimming the entire time. The fish are pumped to a counting machine that counts the fish by having them go over a light, which is captured as an image by camera.
Why sort them?
Once fish reach a certain age and size, they need more room to grow so we separate them. They can then continue their growth and be as healthy as possible. When the fish are small, you can have more of them in one space, but as they get bigger, they need more space to grow.
You keep talking about raceways. What are raceways and how do they work?
We have 18 raceways here at Cedar Crest Trout Farm. Raceways are artificial channels used to raise trout. The raceways are all gravity fed. We take our water from a local creek, where we have a permit to take 3,000 gallons a minute from the river system. We divert the water through the farm from the top of the farm to the bottom of the farm. There is seven feet of fall, which allows the water to flow naturally.
Each individual raceway is 100 feet long and at the end of each section there is a 14-inch drop into the next section, which keeps the gravity flow going. This also allows us to do manure collection at the end of each section. Once a week, if not more, we will go through and individually sweep, rake and vacuum each raceway to collect all the manure. The manure is collected and moved into a pond. Every three to four years, we empty the pond and we have a very nice hay field that we spread the manure on for fertilization.
What are the white waterlines for in the raceways?
When we get into low periods of flow, like when there’s a drought, then we have to cut back our intake of water from the creek. We don’t continue to take that 3,000 gallons a minute from the creek, so then we’ll start reusing our water and pumping it back to gain as much flow as we can because the system still requires flow even though the river can’t give it to us.
The flow of water is a natural part of the trout life cycle and it also moves the manure down and keeps the fish exercising the way that they require. Trout want to swim against the current.
The manure settles in the end of a raceway and you clean it out, but what happens to that other 3,000 gallons of water a minute?
All the water then goes back to the creek but first it goes into a discharge channel, which is 700 feet of natural flora and fauna that will eat up any of the residual nutrients. So, the water leaving the channel is as clean, if not cleaner, than when it entered.
Do you get all your water from the Creek? Why?
In addition to the 3,000 gallons a minute from the creek, we also pump out about 600 gallons a minute from the ground. Our brood stock requires cooler water. The series of raceways where the mature fish are kept uses well water, so that it is more temperature controlled. The river is actually gaining some water because we’re pumping out water from the ground to travel through this series of raceways. The manure is cleaned out of the water which then goes to the discharge channel before returning into the creek.
Thanks for the tour and if people are interested you have more great video about the
aquaculture industry here:
Full Trout Farm video from FreshAirFarmer Andrew Campbell’s Dinner Starts Here series