GORDON––West End fish farms comprised of three partner businesses, including Lyndon Fish Hatcheries, have initiated an application process to develop an offshore cage culture fish farm in Julia Bay.
Originally envisioned as a commercially viable farm, but with a strong research element to it, the recent cancellation of an important Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) freshwater research program means that creative approaches will have to be taken on the research side. In spite of this disappointing set-back, the farm proponents are still very much interested in an ongoing research element, recognizing that quality research in real world conditions will only benefit the industry.
“We officially applied for a site about a month ago,” stated Lynn Rieck, president of Lyndon Fish Hatcheries, which has been working on the farm development with Northern Ontario Aquaculture Association (NOAA). “This is still very preliminary,” he added, pointing out he had met last week with representatives of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), who are responsible for decisions on aquaculture licenses in Ontario.
As reported in the May 13, 2011 edition of the Recorder, Karen Tracey of the NOAA, on behalf of Mr. Rieck, told Gordon-Barrie Island council there is a unmet demand for farm-raised rainbow trout. She told the meeting the NOAA has worked for many years with the regulatory agencies to allow the industry to move forward. The association completed a comprehensive industry strategy in 2009 and have been involved in a consultative process for a year-and-a-half, finalizing the remaining piece of an extensive “coordinated guide” which will allow proponents, regulators and other stakeholders to systematically work through the complex application process.
As for the economic impact a new cage culture site would have in the area, Gordon-Barrie Island council was told that currently member cage farmers produce approximately 4,000 metric tonnes of fish (all fish farms combined). Extrapolating from an economic impact study conducted for the industry in 2007, current direct sales for aquaculture in Northern Ontario (most in the vicinity of Manitoulin) would be in the range of $20 million. Indirect economic activity—from businesses interacting with the producers and processors would be more than $40 million. As for employment, the industry directly and indirectly employed approximately 230 people in 2007. With increased local production, there is the potential for greater local employment as economies of scale will allow for sales and service activities related to the industry to locate here, instead of only on the east or west coasts.
“We have had a summer of data (water quality tests, temperature profiles and bottom samples) on Julia Bay and it looks very promising,” said Mr. Rieck. He explained the fish farm would be located approximately two kilometers off the south shore of Julia Bay, and company representatives have been meeting with the NOHFC (Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation), IRAP (a program under Industry Canada), concerning support of the product. “We will also be meeting FedNor,” he continued. “These meetings have been about developing a game plan, including what we need to do in terms of study this summer. For instance, we definitely want another summer of data gathering of temperature readings and water quality as part of our work to make sure if this project is a go we can farm responsibly. Last year we collected water temperatures at various depths every few minutes for four months with remote temp logging equipment, and we also conducted extensive water quality sampling four times.”
Mr. Rieck stressed the development of the business needs to be respectful of the water, the environment, government regulators and the community. “We will only go ahead if we know this project is embraced strongly, and up to this point there has been nothing negative brought forward,” he said. “Our whole idea is to do something good for the environment and the community. I have asked Carrie Lewis (clerk for Gordon-Barrie Island) if anything negative has come forward to council on this project, and she said there has been none so far.”
“We are being as transparent as we can, we won’t go ahead with the project if it is against anyone’s will, for instance we have met with area cottagers and they have provided positive feedback,” said Mr. Rieck.
He noted it will take at least another couple of years for the process to be completed. “We have a long way to go a lot of technical work that needs to be done, and input from the community and ministries; we really need their entire buy in for this project, but there is the potential for some significant jobs on the farm, in transportation, and increased processing, and Coldwater Fisheries (in Little Current) is currently at 50 percent capacity but this fish farm would help bring it to capacity.”