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.