The future of fish in Canada
In many consumers’ minds, fish and farm are the ultimate four-letter words, never to be uttered in polite company, let alone served at dinner.
“I’ve had customers come in the store and ask, ‘Do you carry any farmed products?’ ” says fishmonger Jon Crofts, owner of Codfathers Seafood Market in Kelowna. “And when I say, ‘Yes, but –,’ they turn on their heel and leave before I can even get the word ‘but’ out.”
Yet, if you ask many experts, fish farming is the future of seafood.
“The way our population is increasing so rapidly, we need alternative sources of protein,” says Teddie Geach, seafood specialist for the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program. “The marine fisheries are not going to be able to sustain our needs.”
So what really is going on down at the fish farm? Is there such a thing as ethically farmed fish? And how can you tell the difference?
Gary Klassen slows down and gestures for me to stop. Movement, he says softly, frightens the fish and makes them agitated, so we tiptoe up to the tanks as best we can in our clunky rubber boots. Inside the round blue tank are thousands of tiny Arctic char, swimming round and round in an endless current.
“All fish like to be in schools, but char like to be in tight schools,” explains the owner of Road 17 Arctic Char (road17char.ca), a closed-containment, land-based aquaculture facility in Oliver, B.C. “They’ll actually go off their feed if they’re not. That’s why they’re commonly cultivated.”
This is the fifth batch of char he’s raised since he got the first eggs from Yukon back in December 2012. He harvested his first fish in 2014, and Okanagan Valley chefs promptly fell in love with a product that is local, sustainable and utterly delicious.
“It’s been fun to take a fish like that to a chef who’s never heard of us,” Klassen says. “We’ve just sold out again.”
Now Klassen can’t keep up with demand and even his wife Lorna says, “I have to put in an order a week ahead.”
If we want to continue eating fish, it will have to grow even faster. According to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program, 70% of all ocean species are already fully exploited, over-exploited or in decline.
“There’s cruise-ship-sized boats out there right now basically raping the oceans and scooping up everything in their path,” says Ned Bell, executive chef of Yew Seafood + Bar at the Four Seasons Vancouver and the founder of Chefs for Oceans, which raises awareness about the state of our fisheries.
“It’s just shocking. And we’re not stopping,” Bell adds. “If we continue along the way we’re going, all the experts are pointing to 2050 as the year of a global fisheries collapse. As a chef who feeds 350,000 people a year, I can’t stand by and watch it happen.”