Aquaculture in Canada

Pacific salmon tartar with avocado, lime, and sesame cracker
Species: Pacific Salmon

Supplier: Creative Salmon Company, BC

Pairing: Red Leaf Lager

I recently had the opportunity to attend an event at Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill, organized by the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance.

I arrived after work as the party was in full swing. To my left was Benjamin Errett from the National Post, to my right was Susan Sampson from the Toronto Star. Sheryl Kirby and Greg Clow from Taste T.O. were chatting with Dana McCauley, food trend expert and blogger extraordinaire. I was impressed at the caliber of food journalists that had come out for the Seafood Extravaganza. These esteemed writers, however, were not the stars of the event.

Nor was the food.

Mind you, it was lovely. The banquet was put together by award-winning seafood chef Kyle Deming. We savoured sablefish poached in garlic olive oil with chorizo salt, pacific mussels marinated in orange, sherry, and fennel, and whole roasted halibut with chive butter. There was scallop ceviche with yellow curry and coconut, Rainbow trout, Atlantic and Pacific clams, and the largest, most beautiful oysters I have ever seen, shucked by oyster-shucking champion, Patrick McMurray, who is also the proprieter of Starfish. He even showed some of us how to shuck a scallop. (Did you know you could do that? I guess you can shuck any shellfish.)

Perhaps, most exciting of all was the Atlantic Cod with Spanish Tortilla and squid ink by True North Salmon from New Brunswick. I've previously written nice things about True North Company before.

As most Canadians recall, we had a strong and stable cod fishery population in the 1980s, yeilding some 775,000 tonnes of fish per year. This number dropped to about 250,000 in 1993 with various theories speculating why this occured. Thanks to the aquaculture, we are now able to enjoy Canadian Atlantic cod for the first time in over 15 years.

Peat smoked Atlantic salmon with horseradish creme fraiche
Species: Atlantic Salmon

Supplier: True North Salmon Company, NB, NS & NL

Pairing: Devil’s Pale Ale

I drank a lovely pumpkin ale from the Great Lakes Brewing Company- so good in fact- that I released an embarassing "mmm" noise that did not go unnoticed by the people around me. (Yikes.) I appreciated that they are environmentally and socially conscious brewers of award-winning, all natural beer. Brewmaster John Bowden of Great Lakes advised us on the art of pairing seafood dishes with craft beers (instead of wine for a change!) and offered other tempting limited-edition samples like the ominous 666 stout.

Oh yes, I was saying: neither the journalists nor the delicious food nor the natural ale were the stars of the evening.

Atlantic and Pacific oysters
Species: Atlantic Oysters
Supplier: Maison Beausoleil, NB
Species: Pacific oysters
Supplier: Fanny Bay Oysters, Mac’s Oysters, BC
Pairing: Orange Peel Ale

The most compelling people I spoke to were the farmers: mongers of mussels, salmon, scallops and trout.

I spoke to one gentleman in particular, Terry Innis, who worked in mussel farming in PEI, and mentioned that my parents have a cottage in Tracadie Bay on, um, Musselbed Road. Not surprisingly, he said his company, Canadian Cove from Atlantic Aqua Farms PEI, had beds in our bay. I said I went kayaking there. He thought that was neat. For some great mussel recipes from the PEI Aquaculture Alliance, please click here.

Farmed fishing has gotten a bad rap. It’s a loaded issue that has been scorned in the mainstream media as environmentally irresponsible, but that’s not necessarily the case. The latest innovations in farmed fishing reduce waste and environmental impact by moving inland to a controlled environment.

The goal of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance is to provide a strong, independent and united voice for Canada's aquaculture industry. The people who work in the aquaculture industry have not previously had a voice to defend their practices and that was very the purpose of this gathering: to dispel myths about farmed fishing and educate the media and public at large on what's really happening in Canada.

Aquaculture is the only sustainable mechanism to increase seafood production. It has to be sustainable; there is a profit-driven industry relying on healthy seafood stocks. It is simply not in the best interests of seafood farmers to pollute the waters in which their product thrives, nor to deplete the source of their income. They want to regulate the industry, make it safer, eliminate water pollution, and create and abide by ethical standards.

Ruth Salmon, the aptly-named executive director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, explained that half of the world's seafood is now farmed and aquaculture is a billion dollar industry in Canada. With demand continually growing in this industry, Canada is poised to be a major player. Salmon explains our assets,
"Canada has the world’s longest coastline, largest freshwater system, and largest tidal range. Combined with skilled scientists, research facilities, managers and employees, those natural attributes put Canada in an ideal position to help meet growing demand."

Atlantic mussels
marinated in orange, sherry, and fennel
Species: Atlantic mussels
Supplier: Canadian Cove, Atlantic Aqua Farms, PEI
Pairing: Golden Horseshoe Premium Lager

Aquaculture has the potential to relieve the pressure from over-exploited aquatic resources depending on the use of marine resources, the density of the farmed fish stocks, how secure these stocks are in relation to the wild population, risk of pollution buildup, and licensing and industry standards.

Some facts about aquaculture:

  • The ideal environment for farmed fish is a land-based, closed containment system, which eliminates risk of fish escaping or transferring disease to wild stocks. Water conditions can also be controlled with waste disposal systems.
  • The varieties of fin-fish that fair best in a farmed environment are rainbow trout, arctic char and catfish.
  • Tilapia is a great poster child for aquaculture because it offers more protein than it requires to raise the fish. Vegetarian, these fish can survive on soy protein and rice, which eliminates strain on the wild stocks.
  • All forms of farmed shellfish are considered sustainable in a natural coastal environment because these fish survive on plankton and don't require any supplemental feed; by eating excess plankton, they actually improve the water quality. Oysters and mussels are farmed using a method called off-bottom culture, which means they are raised from the seafloor and cause little damage to the environment when they are harvested.

Vodka cured arctic char
with beet and dill salad
Species: Arctic char
Supplier: Icy Waters Ltd.,YT
Pairing: Orange Peel Ale

For more information on aquaculture practices in Canada, see the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance's White Paper, Aquaculture, A Canadian Opportunity. For a complete list of CAIA members, please click here.

Photo credit: many thanks to Angela Y. Martin


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