Monday, March 22, 2010

3-Day Fish Farm Tour of Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Over the past weekend I was given the opportunity to go on a multi-day tour of several fish farms around Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Over the course of three days, we visited a scallop farm, an oyster farm, a salmon farm, a processing plant, and a unique research facility which will be discussed later.

The trip was organized as a class field trip for an aquaculture course that I am currently taking at the University of Victoria. Seven students including myself left from UVic on Thursday morning to drive up the highway to Island Scallops, the first stop on our tour. There, the hatchery manager gave us a guided tour, showing us how their operation raises scallops from fertilization all the way to market size. Next, we drove to Deep Bay where we were given a tour of a floating upwelling (FLUPSY) hatchery system, as well as grow-out facilities for oysters. The owner of the company then showed us his processing areas and concluded the tour with several oysters on the half-shell for each of us!
Cyrus Rocks- Marine Harvest Canada
After an overnight in Courtenay, the whole class rose early and drove to Campbell River, where we boarded a boat that ferried us out to Cyrus Rocks, a salmon farm owned and operated by the Norwegian company Marine Harvest. There, the production crews gave us a comprehensive view of salmon farming as an industry, as well as covered daily operations; we left with some food for thought regarding the public perception of this controversial industry and the role of propaganda and misinformation.

Walcan Processing Centre- Quadra Island

Next, we visited the Walcan Processing Plant on Quadra Island, where we saw farmed salmon being processed for market. We observed filleting, as well as whole-fish preparation: this was the closest thing to a slaughterhouse that I have ever seen, but it was fascinating to see the balance of machinery and man-power. This processing plant was highly efficient: fish left the facility on ice, ready to be transported to market, less then 5 minutes after entering the building.

After a long drive from Campbell River, we reached our destination for the evening: Kyuquot Sound. There, our professor from the course owns and operates a research facility unlike any other. This system utilizes “Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture” (IMTA), a practice of growing several different species in one location. For example, our professor grew sablefish in net-pens, with scallops and mussels downstream from the fish, and finally kelps downstream from the shellfish. In this way, the particulate nutrients released by the fish are taken up by the shellfish, and the dissolved nutrients from both can be taken up by the kelps. Essentially, the manager does not perceive the nutrients as ‘waste’ but rather as an additional ‘resource’ that can be utilized to bring several other commercially-valuable species to market.

All in all, this trip was an invaluable education into the aquaculture activities happening in my own backyard. With the exposure to these facilities and operations, I can now begin to gain a better understanding of possible future endeavors in this region of the world, both for the industry and for myself.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Champion of Urban Aquaculture: Dr. Martin Schreibman, Brooklyn College, New York

Immediately after the conclusion of the Cornell Aquaculture short-course, I flew to New York City for the last few days of my three-month adventure (Israel, Maine, New York). The purpose of my stay in NYC was two-fold: I would get some much-needed R&R in one of the greatest cities in the world, PLUS I would have the opportunity to meet and chat with a leading recirculation scientist in his lab at Brooklyn College.

Dr. Martin Schreibman has been working with recirculation systems for many years, yet what makes his work so intriguing is a number of points:

1) He is interested in “urban aquaculture”, namely growing fish on a small scale in metropolitan settings
2) He is also exploring the role of hydroponics, or growing plants in the same system as the fish; in this way, the fish waste provides the nutrient fertilizer for the plants’ growth.

A number of years ago, Dr. Schreibman help found the Aquatic Research and Environmental Assessment Center (AREAC) at Brooklyn College so that he and many other researchers would have a Centre at which to conduct all their work. Given that the human race is becoming more environmentally-conscious, Dr. Schreibman’s work operating these small-scale, environmentally-friendly food production systems will be of vital importance in the coming years.

During my meeting with Schreibman, we sat in his office and spoke at length about challenges and future directions of the industry, as well as where his research fit into the “big picture”. He was a passionate man who clearly loved his work, and his enthusiasm was contagious!

His research focused mainly on tilapia, growing them in the recirculation systems I had been learning about for the past two weeks. Yet as I mentioned before, these were all very small-scale, each one producing no more than a couple hundreds pounds of tilapia. Plus the introduction of plants into the system seemed to be working: both fish and plant appeared happy and healthy, and the water in each tank looked crystal clear due to the help of the natural filtration.

All in all we spent about three hours together, and let me assure you that it was an illuminating three hours! I have been in touch with Dr. Schreibman since we met in August 2009, and I truly hope that we are able to continue our professional relationship into the future. He is an invaluable industry contact, but perhaps more importantly he is a high-calibre man who is concerned with the future and is willing to pass on his knowledge and expertise to the next generation.

Check out this YouTube video for more information: Dr. Martin Schreibman- Urban Aquaculture

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Aquaculture Short-Course: Cornell University

Directly after the short-course in Bar Harbor, Maine, I flew to Ithaca, New York to attend the second of the two courses on recirculating aquaculture systems. This course was offered by the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University. It was taught by Drs. Mike Timmons and James Ebeling, who, along with Summerfelt and Vinci at the Freshwater Institute, are some of the leading aquaculture recirculation experts in the world.

I landed in Ithaca on Sunday afternoon and was planning to retire to the hotel room that I had booked. Instead, I was met at the airport by an old friend who attends Cornell and was taking courses there over the summer. I hadn’t seen him in a long time, and we spent the afternoon and evening catching up and sharing stories (I had just returned from Israel only one week ago!). He insisted that I cancel my reservation at the hotel and crash at his new house, on which the lease had already started but he and his roommates had not moved into yet. This house was literally across the street from campus, so I not only saved money but also a great deal of time by staying there!

The course started early on Monday morning, and immediately I felt a difference from the course in Bar Harbor. While the Freshwater Institute’s course was very formal and professional, this Cornell course felt much more relaxed and fun. The professors laughed and joked around a lot more, which I personally found to be a more effective style of teaching.

The students were again composed of professionals in the field, yet those in attendance at this course represented a much more globalized and international picture. There were professionals from Germany, Japan, Canada, Thailand, and Spain in attendance, which allowed all of us the opportunity to meet and mingle with a very eclectic group of people. We were able to share ideas and suggestions, and some of the conversations that I had with a few of the internationals were invaluable.

The course material was essentially the same as the one in Bar Harbor, considering that it used the same text (which was written by Timmons and Ebeling, the guys teaching the course!). However, as I mentioned, the approach was drastically different, and to be honest I took more away from this course than I did from the one in Maine. This WAS the second time in two weeks that I was exposed to the same material, which may have played a role in the larger amount of absorption.

Overall, I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to attend this course. Now that I have experienced them both, if I had to go back and only attend one, I would have chosen the Cornell course, as I found it to be a more efficient use of my time and resources. I formed much stronger friendships during this course than during the Bar Harbor course, in addition to learning more and feeling more comfortable with the material. I would strongly recommend this experience to anyone who would like more exposure to recirculating aquaculture systems and their design and implementation as it relates to the industry.