“I am pleased to say that your char has ben received quite well by the market place. Both the quality and the sizing of the char were two of the key factors, which have contributed to its success. It is clear from customer comments that your char, which are raised in salt-water pens, have superior quality to char raised in fresh water. In addition, the ocean pens allow for larger char to be reared which is an asset when selling into the whole char market in New York”
Andre LeBlanc of Rio Import and Export out of Halifax. Nova Scotia sent the above paragraph via an email to John Kealey, the general manager of Nordic Salmon in St. Alban’s, Newfoundland.
Nordic Salmon recently sent 20,000 lbs. of Arctic Char, through Rio Import and Export, to the seafood markets of the Eastern United States and, based on the above comments, the char is quite popular with seafood lovers.
While aquaculture operations based in the Coast of Bays have been sending farmed fish to various markets for a number of years, the entry of Arctic Char that was grown in a marine environment in the seafood markets is very interesting for several reasons.
Brief history of Nordic Salmon’s Arctic Char project
The Arctic Char industry in North America and Europe, including Iceland, is utilizing land based production tank systems with elaborate pumping systems which use a mixture of ground water and salt water to create an artificial marine environment so that the char will grow.
While the land based production method has a very heavy environmental footprint, the upside is that with controlled temperature you can get the char to market faster that that grown in a natural ocean grow-out site.
In Norway, seawater trails with char indicated high water mortalities especially during the first winter. Many companies, and countries, have had limited success in raising char on a commercial basis in salt water as they are mainly a fresh water fish. No country or company has sold Arctic Char that were raised in an ocean environment.
Despite all of the doubts, John Kealey thought that he could raise Arctic Char in salt water, especially in the Bay d’Espoir area where water conditions provide both slat and freshwater conditions that are suitable to the species.
In 2007, John Kealey and Cosmas McDoanld sold their interests in a steelhead trout farm to pursue the farming of Arctic Char even though many industry experts advised them that char would not survive in our marine waters.
Kealey said, “When we started with 12,500 char in 2008 we were told by fishery officials that Arctic Char are a ‘scumbag bunch of fish’ and that you’ll never get anywhere with this species.
“Most of the experts told us that you couldn’t keep char in salt water for more than 100 days as they eventually need fresh water to survive. A far as I’m concerned, there is a layer of fresh water on the surface out here around Bay d’Espoir. The char swim to the surface, take two to three mouthfuls and flush out their systems when needed.”
Fast forward to 2012
Despite all the negativity from the start, Nordic Salmon has proven that Arctic Char can be raised in salt water in a marine environment.
Kealey said, “Our recent entry into the markets was our first kick at the cat in sending our product out to thousands of customers, and it was definitely the first serious commercial effort to sell salt water raised char anywhere in the world.
“Most of the 20,000 lbs. we sold were in the four to six pound range while about 10 percent were from eight to ten pounds. This was the first time ever that char of that size has been raised and sold in the markets.”
Later this fall Nordic Salmon plans to send about 125,000 pounds of char to the Easter Seaboard states.
“The fall will be a good time to sell our fish as the Alaskan salmon entry into the markets will be over by then and there will be a higher demand for raised fish,” Kealey said.
Nordic Salmon is now in the process of signing a five-year deal with a number of universities in North America to develop an Arctic Char brood stock that will be a definite asset to the company in the future.
Kealey said, “We’re partnering with universities in Guelph, Montreal, New Brunswick and the veterinary college in Nova Scotia to work on the development of a brood stock to further our commercial char rising operation.
“This will require a lot of work over a 15 year period as it’s a very demanding process in selecting the best fish for a breeding stock. One of the key points in the project will be to develop a stock that doesn’t mature too quickly as the smaller char are not suitable for markets.”