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Tech flaw halts Vancouver Island semi-closed fish farm trial

Water quality concerns, dying fish leads Cermaq to shut down Clayoquot Sound testing
The semi-closed aquaculture containment system trialed by Cermaq Canada. Cermaq Canada Photo.

A trial of a new aquaculture system by Cermaq Canada was stopped after a technical fault reduced water quality, resulting in fish mortality.

In August 2020, Cermaq Canada started testing a semi-closed containment system (SCCS) for salmon farming at its Millar Site in Clayoquot Sound, Vancouver Island. This system uses a flexible polymer material to form an impenetrable barrier between a traditional net pen and the open ocean to stop interaction between wild and farmed salmon, including the transfer of sea lice.

The purpose of the trial was to assess the feasibility of the system in Canadian waters and to compare how fish grew in it versus traditional net pen systems nearby. The company was in the third phase of its four-step research and development process when a fault affecting the water quality of the system happened.

“SCCS is immature technology under development, therefore it is not surprising when you are trialing new technology you will run into challenges,” said Peter McKenzie, Cermaq director of fish health, in a news release. “This was our first attempt to grow fish of varying sizes in a semi closed environment and unfortunately, due to water quality issues, fish performance was affected and resulted in fish mortality.”

This semi-closed containment system, produced by the Norwegian company FiiZK, already has been trialed successfully in Norwegian waters by Cermaq Norway. In these tests, fish grew faster and had better overall performance than in traditional net pens, said David Kiemele, Cermaq Canada managing director, in a previous press release announcing the Canadian trial.

The Millar Site trail was originally expected to run until the summer of 2022, with fish predicted to reach harvest size in the spring and summer of 2022. But environmental monitoring and fish health sampling conducted throughout the trial indicated water quality stressors in the semi-closed containment pens. However, these assessments showed no sign of disease on the fish.

After the decision to stop the trial, the remaining healthy fish in the trial were harvested to avoid additional complications. The control pens at the site were not affected by the water quality issue.

Despite the trial not reaching its intended endpoint, it helped the company gather valuable data.

“We have learned a lot from this experience and although this initial trial had been ended, the reason we went ahead with the trial last autumn was to learn how to grow various sizes of fish in this system,” said Kiemele. “We have acquired important technical and operational knowledge and will use this to improve the performance of the SCCS in Canadian waters.”

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