Growing our Fish with Care

Atlantic Canada’s abundant natural ocean environment makes it one of the best places in the world to farm fish, especially Atlantic salmon, in an environmentally sustainable way.

Our region’s fish farmers have built this industry over the past 40 years, becoming recognized leaders in sustainable and environmentally responsible finfish production. Our farmers are committed to maintaining the environment in which they work and live, following the highest farm management standards and producing high-quality and nutritious food. 

HOW FARMED SALMON GROW

 

How salmon is farmed

Bay Management Areas

Atlantic fish farmers follow the highest fish health management standards and are dedicated to producing high quality and nutritious food using a bay management area approach (BMA).

This approach separates first, second and third year fish supporting a proven agriculture practice of rotation and growout periods. 

This system allows farmers to coordinate the health management practises on all farms in that area and helps prevent the spread of disease or parasites.

Waste management

Pristine seawater is essential for the production of healthy, high quality salmon. Each farm’s location is carefully chosen in areas with the right temperature, water depth and swift currents. The tidal movement flushes out the pens naturally and eliminates waste build up.

Salmon farmers follow strict codes of practice regarding waste management.  In addition to using underwater cameras and sensors to avoid overfeeding, farmers use tailored feed to suit the dietary needs of salmon at each life stage and improve feed digestibility – both of which significantly reduce waste. Farms are fallowed regularly and the environment under and around their farms is monitored routinely.

Stocking

A typical Atlantic Canadian salmon farm has several round net pen systems, each approximately 8-10 metres deep and 70-150 metres in circumference. 

Depending upon its size and the size of the fish, a net pen can hold between 15,000 and 30,000 smolts. Salmon occupy less than four per cent of the space in their net pen and are provided plenty of room to mimic natural schooling patterns.

Containment

Atlantic fish farmers regard the prevention of escapees as the top priority of their containment systems. 

Atlantic fish farmers developed a Code of Containment that follows International Guidelines for Containment set by the International Salmon Farmers Association and the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO).  This Code details rigorous guidelines aimed at ensuring every farmed salmon remains on site.  The guidelines specify all aspects of containment – the design plans of the facility, appropriate mooring systems, structural components and netting – and ensure they reflect the environmental conditions of the farm location.

Due to ongoing advancements in technology and the implementation of the code of containment, escapes have been dramatically reduced over the past 25 years, now estimated at well below one per cent. Regulation requires that all escapes be reported.  

What do farmed salmon eat?

Farmed salmon eat nutrient-dense, dry pellets made from animal, plant and fish proteins of natural origin to include essential vitamins and minerals. All fish feed ingredients are approved for use by the Canada Food Inspection Agency.

Two important ingredients are fishmeal and fish oil, which ensure salmon contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids that are good for your heart and mind.  Fishmeal and fish oil primarily come from a number of sources including forage fish not eaten by humans.  Our feed companies source fishmeal from the byproducts of local fisheries whenever possible.

What makes farmed salmon pink?

Carotenoids – the same natural ingredients found in carrots and egg yolks – are added to their diet to provide the fish with vitamin A and give them their pink colour. No artificial dyes are ever used.

Environmental Management Program

Atlantic fish farmers developed the Environmental Policy and Codes of Practice for marine cage-based farming operations through a collaborative process with government agencies, academia and the community that evolved into an Environmental Management Plan (EMP).

The EMP goal is to guide the long-term environmental sustainability of the marine finfish aquaculture industry in Atlantic Canada.

Read the Environmental Management Program and Standard Operating Practices for the Environmental Monitoring of the Marine Finfish Cage Aquaculture Industry in New Brunswick.

The highest quality

A strong commitment to quality

An Atlantic farmed salmon can be traced back to the hatchery where the fish was raised, where records of what they ate and how they were cared for are maintained. 

All Atlantic Canadian salmon farming companies are involved in several third-party certification programs to ensure the highest quality salmon is produced. 

Did you know?

  • Atlantic salmon are not genetically modified in any way
  • No artificial dyes or growth hormones are ever used
  • Antibiotic use on salmon farms is far lower than any other agricultural animal farming industry. Strictly regulated withdrawal periods, for longer than any other agriculture sector, follow the use of any medication that may be used to address fish health needs. Antibiotics are used only under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Regulation

In Canada, the aquaculture industry is governed by a framework that includes 73 pieces of federal and provincial legislation, making it one of the most strictly regulated industries in the world. Both the location and day-to-day operations of all Canadian aquaculture facilities are regulated by six federal agencies: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Transport Canada, and Health Canada.

Healthy fish

From hatchery to harvest, the health of our fish is of paramount importance.

Atlantic fish farmers follow the highest fish health management standards and use the best science and nearly 40 years of farming experience to grow healthy, nutritious salmon. 
Salmon farmers rely on in-house veterinarians, biologists, oceanographic specialists as well as advice from Provincial and Federal Regulators to develop best practices for fish health management, bio-security, area management strategies that support responsible fish health and welfare standards.

Salmon farmers are proactive in fish health management and respond immediately when challenges arise. They bring millions of healthy fish to market every year responding to the growing demand for our products from customers in the US and Canada.

All salmon enter the marine farms disease and parasite free, but diseases and parasites that affect the aquaculture industry are naturally present in marine and freshwater environments and sometimes our fish need to be treated by veterinarians.

Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA)

Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISAv) is a naturally occurring virus in the environment. ISA is present in a variety of wild fish in many parts of the world, including eastern Canada and the United States. These include: Atlantic herring, Atlantic cod, Atlantic salmon and brown trout. 

Evidence of ISA has been recorded in the wild fishery on the east coast for over 100 years. While ISA is harmful to salmon, it poses no risk to human health.

Farmers or farming practices do not create ISA, but farmers have to manage it. Since 1996, when ISA was first identified in New Brunswick, salmon farmers have worked with scientists, veterinarians and government to ensure monitoring programs were put in place, along with management and containment strategies to stop the virus from spreading.

The lessons learned from every ISA incident are used throughout the region to continuously improve ISA management.

Fish health monitoring is conducted regularly on Atlantic Canada’s fish farms by veterinarians and trained staff to make sure fish remain healthy.  The industry has worked closely with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on standard operating procedures that guide all aspects of ISA containment and control.  

Salmon farmers continue to work with researchers from academia, government and private institutions to learn more about the ISA virus.  To date, a combination of farm management practices such as single year class stocking, enhanced biosecurity protocols, creation of aquaculture bay management areas, reduced stocking densities, fish health monitoring and early intervention provide the industry with the best tools.

What are sea lice?

Sea lice are naturally occurring in the ocean ecosystem, living on many species of wild fish including salmon.  They do not pose a human health risk.

Not all salmon farms have sea lice; for example, no sea lice treatments have been necessary in Nova Scotia for over 20 years.

Avoiding the use of sea lice treatments is a top priority for Atlantic salmon farmers, but sometimes fish can become stressed by sea lice making them vulnerable to disease.  

Our farmers follow an Integrated Pest Management Plan (IPMP) which outlines a multi-level approach to controlling sea lice combining preventative farming practices such as fish husbandry, fallowing and low stocking densities, with regulatory approved treatments when necessary.

Atlantic salmon farmers continue to invest millions of dollars into the research and development in pursuit of alternative sea lice technologies like wellboats, sea lice traps, and “cleaner” fish.