News

Sturgeon centre nets federal grant

Lenora Turcotte, a second-year student in the bachelor of science in fisheries and aquaculture program at Vancouver Island University, checks out a sturgeon kept in one of the tanks in the new International Centre for Sturgeon Studies building.  - Jenn McGarrigle/The News Bulletin
Lenora Turcotte, a second-year student in the bachelor of science in fisheries and aquaculture program at Vancouver Island University, checks out a sturgeon kept in one of the tanks in the new International Centre for Sturgeon Studies building.
— image credit: Jenn McGarrigle/The News Bulletin

The equipment needed to make Vancouver Island University's new International Centre for Sturgeon Studies fully operational will be funded by a federal grant announced Monday.

Ottawa is giving the university $717,700 through the Western Diversification Program to equip the centre with freshwater recirculation systems, lab benches, a backup generator and a range of other scientific equipment, said centre director Don Tillapaugh.

"It's the core operating infrastructure for the building," he said.

The 13,000-square-foot, two-storey building houses research labs on the bottom floor and office space and a dry lab upstairs.

The centre's biggest goal is to help the coastal aquaculture industry grow sturgeon for food in freshwater containers.

The species has the potential to be highly profitable, as VIU researchers discovered they can grow a 4.5 kg sturgeon in three or four years and more can be grown in the same volume of water than farmed Atlantic salmon.

The university has studied white sturgeon for about 25 years. It passed on knowledge of how to spawn and hatch the eggs of sturgeon – knowledge initially obtained from researchers at the University of California's Davis campus – to Sechelt-based Target Marine Products, which buys eggs and juvenile larvae from VIU to produce caviar.

This summer, the university also started working with Taste of B.C. Fine Foods, a Nanaimo company that plans to grow sturgeon for meat.

President Steve Atkinson said the brood stock at VIU is the only stock available to the local aquaculture industry.

He plans to grow the fish for two years and sell the meat across North America.

"I think we're going to see an industry spawned out of the [centre] here," said Atkinson.

Andrew Saxton, MP for North Vancouver and a representative for Western Economic Diversification Canada, said developing opportunities in industries such as aquaculture is crucial to the economy.

The university also received $1.6 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation – the federal government's knowledge infrastructure program – $1.6 million from the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund and $1.3 million from the Island Coastal Economic Trust, which funded construction of the centre.

The centre's grand opening event is set for Oct. 3 and all of the equipment should be in place by March.

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