The AgriMarine production of Steelhead trout in Lois Lake, near Powell River, B.C., begins with eyed eggs. The eggs are hatched in a commercial hatchery beside the lake and raised until the fish are smolts. "Anyone who visits the hatchery must follow strict biosecurity measures such as a foot dips in disinfectant and hand hygiene before entering the buildings," Stephen Robinson, General Manager, AgriMarine Technologies Inc..
The smolts are raised to 100 g., and released into long-standing closed containment operations on Lois Lake. "Good biosecurity programs reduce the exposure to disease–causing organisms and maintain our fish disease-free," says Robinson. The company has been growing in closed containment facilities of their own design for over 30 years.
Growing fish on Lois Lake has been a learning experience on many levels including the effects of climate change. "We've had to adapt to climate change on the lake, which is warming. So for our single-pass closed containment operations we have to draw water from variable intake depths to get enough cold water to grow the Steelhead trout," explains Robinson. "Being in closed containment the way we are, we draw cleaner water and oxygenate to optimum growing levels."
There are advantages to employing closed containment systems in either lake or ocean, "The problems with sea lice go away in the closed containment systems we design, and we have no problems with sea lice in either Canada or Norway ocean pen operations."
The negative outcomes of plankton blooms are also prevented in closed containment. "Future Sea Technologies proved it a number of years ago and we did further study in an AgriMarine test facility that operated near Campbell River." (Future Sea was a closed containment fish farm company out of Nanaimo, B.C., that was able to demonstrate success growing salmon in closed containment on the west coast during the 1990s.)
A further advantage to developing closed containment is waste separation, says Robinson, "This is another issue where we demonstrated isolation of fecal separation very close to 100 percent in Campbell River. Waste is commercially useful and we've composted commercial grade compost in the Lower Mainland, where fish waste compost has been producing impressive results in commercial gardens." Waste recovery from closed containment has the potential to turn into a value-added product.
Not only is AgriMarine Technologies Inc. engaged in the development of a profitable commercial fishery in closed containment facilities, but they have concurrent research and development going on around the world in various species of fish.
Robinson says, "One of the untapped potentials on the west coast of B.C. is for synergies in raising wild salmon for enhancement projects in various locations. A mixed model hatchery involves growing fish for farms as well as growing fish for salmon enhancement projects." He notes Creative Salmon Organic, a fish farm company in Tofino, B.C., produces more Chinook salmon than the entire Pacific hatchery system.
Closed containment issues differ dramatically from net-pen sites, "Oxygen and constant flow of the water are the most important issues," he says, "Closed containment works with greater efficiency in producing healthy fish because the fish need low stress environments to thrive, at the same time as they need constant exercise and good food nutrition with correct levels of oxygen."
Due to the experience of the past 30 years on Lois Lake, "The issue of climate change is part of the research at AgriMarine Technologies Inc.. Summer temperatures are rising on the lake to the level where surface temperatures are lethal to the fish." To cope with the rising temperatures, "We grow the fish by drawing water from depths in the lake, and that's one of the important things we learned from operating our model farm."
Steelhead are anadromous but AgriMarine grows them out in fresh water. "Government policy of not issuing new site licenses has been in place for a long time and in Canada we don't get to prove what we've learned on the ocean." Instead, AgriMarine sells equipment and expertise internationally to developments in Norway, Chile, and Asia, places, "which have the government initiatives to expand new sites. In Norway, new sites have to be innovative, and our technologies are used there. In Chile, they are seeking better methods of waste management, and fish farm operators in Chile must vacuum solid waste from beneath pens."
Agri-Marine has designed closed containment to accommodate pen sizes for raising commercial quantities of fish in the ocean. "We want to be able to scale up to 70 or 80 thousand tonnes of fish per year. Day-to-day operations in closed contaiment become machinery-focused, and employees have different skill sets in jobs as mechanics and millwrights. It's a higher demand for skilled labour."
Commercial operations involve daily regimens, and other routines occur on a monthly and quarterly basis. Steelhead are raised to 5 lb, "That is the market-size we produce on Lois Lake." AgriMarine Technologies Inc. has six tanks in operation in China growing Steelhead, "China is highly receptive to fish farm technologies and they are growing a lot of fish in pens."
AgriMarine, a west coast Canadian company, has made steady improvements in proprietary technology and cost-effectiveness of the equipment. "We can build closed containment pens for the same price as a net pen, and the benefits of scale," going even bigger, "would not be a problem." Growing the same amount of fish found in a dozen ocean-based net-pens would involve three or four containers on the ocean, "We have two tanks in Norway of 6000 cubic metres of containment which is equal to a 12-pen net-based site."
Operating on water instead of being 'land-based' is the best path to efficiencies, including for closed containment, says Robinson. "The water resource is the big question facing land-based systems but also there are questions of energy. Green electricity is an issue on land-based systems, building systems to have grid-supplied electricity that is low-carbon emission." Robinson notes, "In Norway they are using wind-powered electricity for ocean-based sites."