Aquaculture OVERVIEWAquaculture refers to the culturing, or farming of finfish or shellfish in a controlled environment such as tanks, ponds or net cages. Commonly called fish farming, it is carried on in this region by both the public and private sectors.
(photo courtesy BC Salmon Farmers Association)
Fin fish aquaculture is limited almost exclusively to salmonids and trout; however other species are being experimented with. The government's primary role is to culture salmonids in their early life stages, releasing fry into river systems or lakes to enhance wild populations. The private sector operates hatcheries at the first stage of fish farming, where fish are held in captivity throughout their lives. When ready to enter salt water the fry are then transferred to net pens and are fed and reared to market size, then harvested as they reach adulthood. BC fish farmers raise coho, chinook and Atlantic salmon as well as a small quantity of rainbow trout.
Commercial salmon farming began in the Alberni Inlet in the mid 1970's. By the 1980's a series of harmful algal blooms (which use the available oxygen in the water and clog the fish's gills), heavy storms and low market prices precipitated an industry-wide reorganization as small farms closed and others were purchased by large multinational companies. The industry developed from ten operating farms in 1984 to a peak of 135 farms in 1989. There were 50 companies operating in 1989, compared to 12 currently operating 121 sites. Production increased from roughly 100 tonnes in 1980 to 85,400 tonnes in 2002. Seventy per cent of B.C.'s farmed salmon was exported, 95% of which was destined for the U.S. market.
Farmed salmon exceeds the wild salmon sector in harvest quantity and value and in the wholesale value of processed products, partially because of declines in the commercial harvesting sector. British Columbia is currently the fourth largest producer of farmed salmon in the world after Norway, Chile, and the UK.
There is controversy concerning the salmon farming industry and its environmental impact, particularly in relation to the location of farms, the transmission of diseases, the use of antibiotics and the mixing of farmed fish and wild salmon stocks.
A list of current marine Salmon Farm Sites in BC is available at:
Shellfish aquaculture centers around Manila clams and Pacific oysters, with mussel and Japanese weathervane scallop culture occurring on a smaller scale. Other species currently being cultured in limited or experimental quantities include: Arctic char, carp, sablefish, sturgeon, tilapia and geoduck clams. New species (geoduck clams, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and abalone) show potential for value-added high value products.
In 1998 the BC shellfish culture sector produced 6,100 tonnes of cultured products with a wholesale value of $12 million. This represented less than 10% of the total wild and cultured shellfish landings.
In the 1970's, oyster farmers began to experiment and adapt Japanese off-bottom culture techniques - suspending oysters on strings from floats.
In the 1990's declining landings of wild clams and geoduck fisheries prompted research into culture techniques for these species as well.
Industry proponents see huge growth potential in shellfish culture and in 1998 the provincial government committed to doubling the amount of Crown land available for shellfish aquaculture to 42.3 km within 10 years.
Shellfish growing water quality on the west coast is assessed by Environment Canada using a network of approximately 3500 marine and 1900 freshwater sampling stations from which 5000 samples are collected annually.
As of 2002, the annual combined aquaculture sector in BC generated $247,000 in revenues, contributed $116,000 to the GDP and represented 1,900 jobs. The B.C. aquaculture sector produced 94,200 tonnes of fish and shellfish. The total wholesale value of the farmed seafood products generated $389.4 million. (Source: BCSTATS, September 2002 )