Sockeye farm makes a splash

A farmer in Langley has managed to raise sockeye in tanks to 1.5 kilograms and plans to sell them in local stores.

Way back in the early days of salmon farming in B.C. farmers experimented with growing practically every kind of fish.

During the first salmon farming “gold rush” in the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of people saw dollar signs and thought they could make a fortune by throwing some fish in an old fishing net and tossing feed at them. There were some successes, but there were a lot more failures, as the old-timers will tell you.

One big set of failures were the attempts to grow sockeye to market size in net pens.

It didn’t work out very well; sockeye are highly susceptible to disease. This is simply a fact farmers and enhancement facilities have encountered when they have tried to culture sockeye. In salmon enhancement facilities in Alaska, where they raise hundreds of millions of sockeye to smolt size and then release them, nearly half of the cultured fish routinely died from IHN virus and other diseases in the 1990s, before hatcheries were finally able to get a better handle on biosecurity.

Other attempts to grow sockeye bigger than smolt size have met with dismal failure.

Today, only Atlantic salmon and some Chinook salmon are raised in ocean pens, because of the farming expertise that has been developed for those species as well as the high-quality broodstock that has been developed to pass on farm-friendly genetics from generation to generation.

Because it’s the dominant salmon in the marketplace, many people have tried (and failed) to grow Atlantic salmon in tanks to market size.

But not everyone’s given up on sockeye.

One farmer in Langley has managed to raise sockeye in tanks to 1.5 kilograms and has the capacity to produce 25 tonnes of sockeye and trout per year. This is very interesting and encouraging and any good news story about salmon farming is good for all salmon farmers. There is a photo gallery posted with the story that gives a good look at his farm and his fish.

There is one small problem with the story, however.

This is not the “world’s first land-based” sockeye farm.

Way back even before salmon farming caught on, back in 1974, J.R. Brett at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo did extensive experiments with growing sockeye salmon in tanks. His research showed something that all salmon farmers have to struggle with — the bigger the fish get, the slower they grow and the more feed they eat. This is something all salmon farmers, in the sea and on land, still have to deal with.

We will be watching this Langley farm with interest and wish Don Read all the best as he works to make this a viable business.




9 thoughts on “Sockeye farm makes a splash”

  1. This is the first commercial operation but as you said, not the first effort for culturing sockeye. Would JR Brett’s work would be considered “farming?” It’s splitting hairs, but just wanted to be even more accurate.

    1. Good question, we have no idea. We just wanted to be pedantic and point out this isn’t the first time sockeye have been grown in tanks. And Brett’s study does call them “pan size”…

      1. There are many types of salmon farming as demonstrated by the article. If you paint all farming techniques with the same brush then you are not allowing your concerns to enlightened.

      2. But your written comment was “There is one small problem with the story, however.
        This is not the “world’s first land-based” sockeye farm.”?

        If you said this wasn’t the first time that salmon were grown in tanks, then that would be correct, but you called JR Brett’s work a “farm”, and judging from the PDF, it was laboratory research.

        So is the original article correct then?

      3. The point was important to me, but you are right, its trivial to debate it further. Have a great day and thanks for your response(s).

      4. In all seriousness, we’re not hanging this article on this farm not being the first. However, the environmentalists promoting it are hanging their claims on it being first. The goal was to point out that the claim is not accurate. As well, as far as we are concerned, any system where you keep animals and feed them to make them grow is a farm. In Brett’s case, it was a research farm.

  2. Each time a salmon is “raised to market size” and sold for less than the value of its wild counterpart, it undermines the value of that wild fish and the environs in which it lives. In a capitalistic society, this matters. If we do not sufficiently value and care for wild salmon and the clean oceans and wild rivers they depend on, we will lose them.
    And that’s just one of the many problems with farmed salmon.

    1. You are blending economic, moralistic and environmental arguments in a way that does not make sense.

      You assume that because farmed salmon cost less, that undermines the value of wild salmon in the same store. That’s a broad and baseless assumption. Look at how wild salmon marketers have experienced huge success by convincing people that they SHOULD pay more for wild salmon.

      You also assume that people who choose to buy farmed salmon do not care about wild salmon and clean oceans and wild rivers by making that choice. How can you assert that? Do you know the hearts and minds of shoppers?

      Your tactic seems to be working backwards from your own assumptions about farmed salmon and applying it to other people’s choices and views. But you err in assuming that your own views are correct and can be reverse-engineered onto everyone else.

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