Aquaculture is one of the world’s fastest-growing food sectors. With seafood consumption increasing, aquaculture becomes an attractive investment for investors. Trout is a desirable species from a consumer standpoint, and the demand is high. Lake Superior is being considered for a potential rainbow trout fish farm. A Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) feasibility report outlines the potential for rainbow trout aquaculture to take place in the Thunder Bay area. The demand for rainbow trout is greater than the supply and thus a need to expand production.
Salmonids which include salmon, trout, chars, freshwater whitefishes, and graylings are the most economically viable family of fish. Although there are other species of fish that have larger harvest volumes, salmonids are the most economic family of fish. Salmonids need cool waters to flourish in and can survive in temperatures from 0 degrees Celsius to 20 degrees Celsius.
Aquaculture is not new to the Great Lakes. Lake Huron has had net-pen aquaculture production since 1982. Twelve net-pen culture sites currently operate in Lake Huron close to Manitoulin Island and are owned by seven companies, four of which are Indigenous-owned.
In Ontario, aquaculture can be land-based or with net-pen systems as is the case for the Lake Huron operations. Land-based operations can be either flow-through or recirculation systems and can take the form of either freshwater ponds, raceways, or circular tanks. The tanks are made of either fiberglass, steel, or concrete and fish are raised from juvenile to market size. Land-based systems can also be used to raise fingerlings to transfer to net-pen systems.
Net-pens are typically made of steel-pontoons in the Great Lakes aquaculture operations. The study looked at the area from Copper Island west of Schreiber to Pie Island south of Thunder Bay and three potential areas were identified:
- Nipigon Bay
- Pie Island to Victoria Island
- Black Bay
The locations were determined based on suitable water depths and shelter from prevailing winds.
Some advantages listed in the CEDC report for Lake Superior aquaculture are:
- Opportunity to establish a long-term plan for the strategic development of sustainable aquaculture production based on the Lake Huron experience (+30 years).
- There are potential areas available for aquaculture development
- Summer water temperatures are ideal for optimal growth of the inventory
- Developed commercial infrastructure (roads, rail, ports, industrial parks) is available in the region
- Neighboring First Nations communities may be interested in this opportunity
While challenges presented are:
- MNRF has previously expressed concern about net-pen aquaculture development in Lake Superior – presumably because of opposition from the US states
- The supply chain for key inputs such as fingerlings, feed, & processing services is not established
- The supply of juveniles is likely going to based largely in southern Ontario (distance, capacity)
- A technically trained workforce is not readily available
According to the CEDC report, a land-based system is estimated to cost $5.65 million and a net-pen system is estimated to cost $2 million.
The report notes that “recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are seen by investors as being beyond a safe bet … and RAS are seen as a thing beyond the pandemic and a good place to put your capital” according to a seafood analyst.
According to the feasibility report by the CEDC, aquaculture could expand to Lake Superior to meet the growing demands of trout, but there are many steps that need to be taken before this becomes a reality. The Steelhead Association was a feature in CBC and expressed concerns such as the farmed trout escaping and interacting with native populations. The group said that there were be less concern over a land-based operation than a net-pen-based system.
Cyanobacteria in the Thunder Bay and Lake Superior Region
Over the past few years the Thunder Bay region has seen an increase in the number of reported cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, blooms on inland lakes and Lake Superior itself. In particular, the North Shore of Lake Superior has only recently recognized blooms on the Canadian side of Lake Superior. The Apostle Islands on the US side of the border have had algal bloom occurrences seasonally over the past few years. The situation for inland lakes is much worse as increased development, land-use changes and nutrient loading rapidly changes the trophic state of these smaller lakes, some of which drain into Lake Superior bays and cause further algal bloom occurrences within these bays.
What are cyanobacteria?
Cyanobacteria are small photosynthetic organisms that are able, under certain environmental conditions, to outcompete other primary producers. Primary producers in aquatic ecosystems are called phytoplankton and include a range of organisms such as green, and golden algae, as well as, dinoflagellates, diatoms. The growth of phytoplankton depends on the amount of sunlight and abundance of nutrients available, similar to growing vegetables in your backyard garden. Normally all of these organisms live in water and are the first block of the food chain in our lakes and rivers. Sometimes conditions are ideal and phytoplankton growth explodes resulting in water that looks, tastes, and smells unpleasant. When cyanobacteria dominate the community of phytoplankton they bring an additional problem, they can produce toxins known as cyanotoxins. There are three main groups of toxins they produce: microcystin, saxitoxin, and anatoxin. Some cyanobacteria are associated with a specific toxin and some are able to produce more than one. Cyanobacteria does not always produce these toxins and there is still much to learn about the why and when these toxins produce.
If you suspect a cyanobacteria bloom, call the OMOECP spills action hotline (Toll-free: 1-866-MOETIPS (6638477)) immediately.
Why is Cyanobacteria and Increasing Concern?
As climate change progresses the chances of seeing more bloom events increases. The contributing factors are warming air and lake temperatures, increased precipitation (brings more nutrients into rivers,streams, and lakes), and the increase of open water season where more sun allows for a longer growing season of plants and algae. As we see winter fade to spring, snow and ice melt providing an inflow of water and other ‘stuff’ into the areas rivers and lakes. This is called the spring freshet and is known for bringing melt and rain water across land into rivers and lakes. As water travels to its final destination it picks up chemicals along the way. This is a natural process, however, human activity has significantly impacted what chemicals can be picked up as water travels over the land. Spring freshet is the first instance of problematic chemicals like oil, gas, road salt and fertilizers being transported into rivers and lakes. Although some lakes are monitored by public institutions, the majority of algal blooms in the region are reported by local residents or private citizens using the ‘Spills Hotline’
(if you suspect a cyanobacteria bloom report it to the OMOECP spills action hotline https://www.ontario.ca/page/report-pollution-and-spills Toll-free: 1-866-MOETIPS (6638477).
What is citizen science?
Because of the unpredictable nature of algal blooms, local support for citizen science monitoring is needed to account for the true number of algal blooms occurring in the region, and to gain a better understanding of lake health conditions and the ‘trophic state’ of inland lakes in the area. Nathan Wilson, who is a PhD candidate at Lakehead University’s Biotechnology Program, is responding to this need and trying to understand the changes to these lakes, and the risks to humans, by initiating a citizen science monitoring program.
Citizen Science is a way for members of the public to gain knowledge through education and learning, while working with professionals. By enabling the public with enhancement of scientific literacy, observations in the field from the public can help provide better data on the conditions of lakes in the region. By participating in citizen science members of the public will be asked to collect data on a minimum monthly basis. Parameters relating to water quality (i.e. dissolved oxygen, temperature, ph, clearity), and phytoplankton community throughout the open water season (spring -fall) will help establish a baseline for current conditions over the seasons. This is more frequent than current monitoring programs are able to and therefore helps to provide important data currently lacking for most lakes in this region.
See our other posts on cyanobacteria and algae blooms below:
The weather is getting warmer which means gardening season is just around the corner. Whether this is your first season or you’re a seasoned expert, there are always opportunities to learn and apply something new. Growing successful plants requires healthy soil and adequate amounts of water. Irrigating for agriculture purposes is the largest user of water. Although you likely don’t have a farm, there are still ways to reduce the amount of irrigation (water that comes from surface or groundwater) that your garden uses.
Creating healthy soil is a great way to increase your soil’s resiliency to droughts and periods of low rainfall. An easy and cost-effective way to increase your soil’s health is through the addition of organic matter. Organic matter is decomposed plant or animal residues that are typically applied to the soil in the form of compost or manure. Composting is a great opportunity to reduce your household’s waste by transforming food scraps into food for the soil.
Organic matter is thought to be “the jack of all trades” when it comes to soil health. Organic matter impacts the chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of the soil. It adds nutrients to the soil which feeds soil biology and provides essential nutrients for plant growth. Organic matter also protects against erosion by aiding in the creation of aggregates. Organic matter increases the moisture retention of the soil and thus makes it more resilient to periods of water scarcity.
Compost is created from the breakdown of food scraps and plant residues. Composter bins can be purchased, if you live in Thunder Bay, EcoSuperior sells composters for a reduced rate. In order for the residues to decompose, water and air are needed. Rainwater or in dry periods, water from the tap should be added to the compost bin. Turning over the compost on a regular basis with a shovel, pitchfork, or other tool is also necessary to bring air to the process to keep the process aerobic.
Composting is a great tool to reduce the amount of inorganic or chemical-based fertilizers used. This not only saves money but also reduces the number of chemical fertilizers entering water bodies which is beneficial to aquatic ecosystem health.
Manure can be purchased from local farms or greenhouses and can be applied to soil to provide similar benefits to compost.
Watering your garden is a necessity in dry periods, even if your soil has a healthy amount of organic matter in it. Using the hose or tap as a source of water may be great for plant growth, but it increases the water footprint of your household. Harvesting rainwater is a great way to reduce the amount of surface or groundwater used. Rain barrels can be installed to collect the water from eavesdrop. Rain barrels are another great piece of equipment to improve the quality of your garden while reducing your environmental impact. If you’re a resident of Thunder Bay, you can buy a subsidized rain barrel from Ecosuperior to help support the watering needs of your garden, while decreasing your water bill and water footprint.
Braiding Sweetgrass – Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants is a phenomenal book that challenges the mindset of modern western society. Robin is a wonderful storyteller who personifies nature to give it life and respect to challenge the worldview that nature is an object and something that people can own.
The book opens up with a story that really resonated with me, being a university student in an environmental-based program. She gives her third-year university ecology class a survey that asks them “to rate their understanding of the negative interactions between humans and the environment.” Nearly everyone in the two-hundred-person class agreed that humans and the environment are a bad mix. Later in the survey, she asked about positive interactions between humans and the environment, with the average answer being there are no positive interactions. What the students fixate on is the culture they’ve grown up in where the land and water are constantly being harmed by human actions. This is not true for all cultures though as Robin explains and provides examples throughout the book. Indigenous wisdom is echoed throughout the entire book and countless examples are written that share the beneficial relationships that humans and the environment can have.
Robin is an ecologist and explores questions that have pondered her since a child through a scientific lens. One example is the disturbance of sweetgrass, a sacred plant in her culture. While harvesting sweetgrass Robin was taught to always leave the first patch you come across because that might be the next one, and that when you come across another patch you never take more than half. Robin wanted to explore this wisdom that has been passed down in Indigenous culture with a scientific lens. Her faculty didn’t think highly of it and predicted that any level of disturbance would leave impair the health of the sweetgrass. Robin’s research revealed the opposite with sweetgrass patches flourishing with the harvesting disturbance demonstrating one of the many beneficial relationships between humans and the environment. Robin uses her research as a form of storytelling. Her goal is to make science understandable to the average citizen and not exclusive to the elite scientific community. There is a time and a place for scientific language and jargon, but Robin highlights the need to make that information digestible to the general public. When it comes to change, the public at large holds an immense amount of power and it becomes essential to communicate with society on new scientific breakthroughs to see change.
Braiding sweetgrass is a book that shows a deep appreciation for the environment. But the book goes beyond highlighting the generosity of nature. Throughout the book, there is a theme of the human responsibility of looking after and respecting the environment. One quote that stands out, in particular, is “everything we use, is the result of another life, but that simple reality is rarely acknowledged in our society” (p 148). Our society has become disconnected from the environment that we rarely take the time to recognize that everything comes from another life. It’s easier to see the life given to have a chicken breast or hamburger, but harder to see the lives that went into the computer. But past marine plankton or algae lived lives and tectonic action turned them into oil to be used in modern life. This book was a reminder to slow down, be mindful, and give appreciation for everything the gift giver that is Earth.
Another topic that is presented throughout the book is the responsibility that humans have to give back to the earth. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, this is something quite alien to the western society. We live life as consumers, and often the only time we thinking about gift-giving is when it comes to holidays and birthdays. Everything we use comes from the Earth, and there is a relationship built on respect that needs to be cultivated. This relationship is a “one-size-fits-all” relationship. Giving back and showing respect to the Earth can look like many different things. Cultivating a relationship of respect can look like a neighbourhood clean-up, biking to work, learning about wetlands, donating to an organization, composting, talking to a friend about an issue, refusing a plastic bag, planting a tree, and many more. There are so many ways to give back, all it takes is a little time, energy, and respect.
The book is filled with stories, lessons, and wisdom. To thoroughly digest everything Robin writes about, I would suggest reading this book slowly over time, whether it be one chapter a day, or a chapter week. The awareness presented throughout the book is alien to western society and needs time to digest and apply. This book is an amazing read and one that I plan to come back to on a regular basis. The wisdom presented in the book will never get old and provides a mindset and worldview for creating a relationship with the environment that can last for generations.
Canada’s Great Lakes Strategy for PFOS, PFOA, and LC-PFCAs Risk Management
Available for Public Comment:
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) commits Canada and the United States to prepare and issue binational strategies for Chemicals of Mutual Concern (CMCs), which may include research, monitoring, surveillance, and pollution prevention and control provisions.
A Draft of Canada’s Great Lakes Strategy for Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), and Long-Chain Perfluorocarboxylic Acids (LC-PFCAs) Risk Management is now available for public review. The Draft Strategy identifies opportunities for additional Canadian actions to address data gaps and better achieve key commitment under the GLWQA by minimizing the release of PFOS, PFOA, and LC-PFCAs to the Great Lakes basin. Actions can be considered by a variety of stakeholders, including industry, academia, and non-government organizations.
The period for interested agencies, organizations, and individuals to provide comments on the draft Strategy is from April 26, 2021 to May 26, 2021.
How to participate
Individuals can make a big difference in protecting the water quality and health of the Great Lakes. That’s why the federal government, through Environment and Climate Change Canada, is seeking your feedback on the draft Strategy. Visit Binational.net to read and review the draft Strategy to provide your input.
Your feedback will help guide the actions of the Government of Canada and its partners.
To learn how we will protect your privacy during this consultation, read our privacy statement:
“Public Input on the Draft of Canada’s Great Lakes Strategy for PFOS, PFOA, and LC-PFCAs Risk Management.
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More information on the Chemicals of Mutual Concern can be found here.