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.