RAISING SALMON RIGHT

Something different is happening at British Columbia’s West Creek Aquaculture.

Having already produced a plant fertilizer made from the water where the fish live, West Creek Aquaculture has turned its attention to aquaponics — growing plants in the stuff.

This is, of course, an aside to their main gig, raising salmon and trout in confined facilities in Vancouver’s lower mainland. What’s exceptional is that West Creek Aquaculture’s farm is many kilometres away from the ocean.

“Rather than trying to be a hyper, mega, global salmon producer, we produce what we can grow comfortably. The fish are healthy and the product is great,” said West Creek Aquaculture owner Don Read.

TIDES CHANGING IN FISH FARMING

If you’ve visited a Co-op Food Store, there’s a good chance you’ll see fish from West Creek Aquaculture. It didn’t end up there by accident. With shoppers showing growing concern about the environmental impact of fisheries — which commonly farm Atlantic salmon in the ocean along the West Coast — a demand developed for more sustainable alternatives. West Creek Aquaculture responded by developing the country’s first salmon raised on land.

“We didn’t want to do Atlantic salmon. We felt that we are in the Pacific and in Western Canada. It just didn’t make sense to us,” said Read. “We are the only people in Canada that are producing Coho salmon on land for consumers.”

Grown in fresh water tanks, without antibiotics or growth hormones, West Creek Aquaculture’s farm eliminates the concerns raised about open ocean salmon farming. The fish can’t escape, possibly harming wild populations, and no waste is introduced into the ocean.

Kurtis Hayne from SeaChoice, a collection of four conservation organizations that helps shoppers identify sustainable seafood through a rating and labelling system, believes there are still misconceptions about sustainable seafood.

“One of the big connections a lot of people make is that farmed seafood is unsustainable, which is not the case,” said Hayne. “We have a lot of very good examples of very sustainable farmed seafood.”

SHOPPING SUSTAINABLE

West Creek Aquaculture’s forward approach to raising sustainable fish has been noticed. West Creek Pacific Coho salmon are recognized by Ocean Wise and SeaChoice as a best choice for sustainably produced seafood.

“It’s an exciting time to see that the consumer demand has helped to create a market for these innovative solutions that are addressing these big problems,” said Lana Gunnlaugson of SeaChoice.

SeaChoice ranks and recommends products based on how they are farmed, giving higher rankings for suppliers that factor in the long-term viability of the harvested populations and the ocean’s health. Seafood and fisheries can be given a poor ranking for overusing chemicals and antibiotics, destroying habitat, releasing waste into the environment and extensively using wild fish for feed.

Co-op has used the SeaChoice ranking and labelling system through its Reel in the Solution program since 2012. Since partnering with SeaChoice, Co-op has stopped selling fresh and frozen blue marlin, yellowfin tuna, barramundi, Atlantic cod, Chilean sea bass and other seafood that received the lowest ranking.

Last year, over two thirds of fresh and frozen seafood products sold at Co-op Food Stores carried a positive ranking. With the introduction of new Selva shrimp and Coho salmon products, shoppers have more sustainable seafood options.

“There’s not really any golden rule for sustainable seafood, whether it’s imported or local, wild or farmed. All have sustainable options,” said Hayne.