by BRIAN LOCKHART
Ontario farmers fishing for a new use for an idled barn might consider filling it with water. But be prepared for some hefty costs for the retrofit.
Grant Vandenberg, president of the Interprovincial Partnership for Sustainable Freshwater Aquaculture Development, says hog and chicken barns are particularly suited for a conversion to a giant fish tank – with “some serious retrofitting.” The federal organization promotes and researches sustainable freshwater aquaculture.
“Usually these are long narrow barns that have some sort of a gutter system that we could re-utilize in some form or another,” he says. “These are usually 40 to 60 foot wide buildings and around 200 feet long.”
The design lends itself to the raceway track style that is required to keep water moving through a filtration system.
“You have a rounded end on one side and a wall in the middle,” Vandenberg explains, “On the other side you have a water treatment facility so the water is continuously moving around in that circuit. To have a recirculation system you have mechanical filtration, bio-filtration, you have to add oxygen and there’s sterilization going on there as well.”
An IPSFAD-sponsored pilot project in Warren, Manitoba has turned a former hog barn into a 980-cubic meter production tank. It begins operation in March.
It cost $1,185, 501 to get the project off the ground. That included provincial and federal matching grants, each more than $300,000. The farm’s owners contributed $350,000 in existing infrastructure and $280,000 in input and operating costs.
Fish farming is a growing industry in Ontario with around 10 million pounds produced annually - almost all of it Rainbow Trout.
It is traditionally accomplished by using cages in open water or in ponds and lakes in a land-based operation.
In Ontario, most of these farms are located in the north and are limited to native species such as Rainbow Trout, says Karen Tracey, executive director of the Northern Ontario Aquaculture Association. A switch to contained and controlled tank production could open the door to adding different species, she says.
Farm-raised fish meet or exceed the nutritional value of those caught in lakes and oceans. A 2002 report by the Aquaculture Centre at the University of Guelph, farm-raised fish are of a higher quality than those caught in the wild.
“Most of our farms are antibiotic free,” Tracey says. “Farmed fish are actually privileged in what they eat compared to wild fish. For the last thirty or forty years there has been huge research through the University of Guelph into food nutrition for farm raised fish.”
The majority of farm-raised fish in Ontario supplies grocery store chains in the province and in Quebec, with some finding its way to the U.S. market. BF