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Fish farm nets federal grant

Steve Atkinson, president of Taste of B.C. Aquafarms Inc., left, shows Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, one of the sturgeon fish he is growing at his East Wellington-area farm. Atkinson is growing sturgeon and rainbow trout on a small scale, and with the help of a federal grant announced Tuesday, he is building a commercial-scale recirculating aquaculture system for growing trout that could be replicated by other aquaculture farmers. - Jenn McGarrigle photo
Steve Atkinson, president of Taste of B.C. Aquafarms Inc., left, shows Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, one of the sturgeon fish he is growing at his East Wellington-area farm. Atkinson is growing sturgeon and rainbow trout on a small scale, and with the help of a federal grant announced Tuesday, he is building a commercial-scale recirculating aquaculture system for growing trout that could be replicated by other aquaculture farmers.
— image credit: Jenn McGarrigle photo

A Nanaimo company has netted a federal grant to help establish a land-based model aquaculture farm for rainbow trout.

Keith Ashfield, federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, was in town Tuesday to tour the construction site for a new freshwater farm being built by Taste of B.C. Aquafarms Inc., an East Wellington-area family-run company.

Through the Aquaculture Innovation and Market Access Program, the federal government is investing more than $1.25 million in 11 West Coast aquaculture companies to encourage sustainable and innovative aquaculture projects and Taste of B.C., the only Nanaimo company on the list, is receiving $450,000.

Steve Atkinson, president of Taste of B.C., said once established, the farm his family is building can be replicated anywhere in the province.

“By the end of this, we’ll have a turn-key farm that someone can come and buy a blueprint for,” he said. “It’s a good model for family farm operations. These can be built close to markets with very little water and very little impact to the surrounding area.”

Atkinson, who has been working on this project for about four years, estimates the farm will produce about 100 tonnes of rainbow trout per year from 15 tanks ranging in size from one metre to eight metres. The first round should be harvest-ready next fall.

The $1.2-million project includes a dual-drain water recirculating system. The water is drawn from groundwater collected in ponds dug on site and 98 per cent of it continues recirculating through all of the tanks, cleaned by several filter systems, while the final two per cent is put back into the property’s groundwater system.

Atkinson said by the end of the process, he will know the start-up and operational costs as well as how to effectively grow fish in this type of system.

“We chose this species because we know there’s a huge potential market,” he said. “There’s much greater demand than supply.”

On top of the federal grant, Atkinson said the project has received an $82,500 provincial grant and Nanaimo-based PR Aqua is donating the engineering costs – close to $80,000 – in exchange for using the site as a research and development facility to test new technologies in a real-world situation.

K.C. Hosler, chief technical officer for PR Aqua, said the goal is to create a standard model, complete with performance and costs, that the company would provide to other farmers and it can also take customers to the site to show them the technology in action.

Taste of B.C. is also partnering with Vancouver Island University – Atkinson gets advice from faculty and plans to open up the farm to students, who will use it as a learning centre.

“It’s a really important addition to the learning environment for our students,” said Don Tillapaugh, director of VIU’s International Centre for Sturgeon Studies. “We have the latest technology, but not at the scale that [Atkinson’s farm] has.”

Taste of B.C. has already been raising steelhead and sturgeon on a small scale for a number of years and Atkinson hopes to do a sturgeon aquaponics project next. Aquaponics combines growing fish with growing vegetables in water.

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