While its difficult to tell from shore, there has been a flurry of activity in Shelburne County waters by Kelly Cove Salmon, a division of Cooke Aquaculture.
After a fallow period, the fish farm pens in Shelburne harbour now have 500,000 smolts stocked. As well, new pens in Jordan Bay are coming into play and have been stocked with smolts weighing approximately ¼ of a pound. Those fish are expected to reach harvest size in about 18 to 24 months.
I was able to go aboard a Boston Whaler to get an inside look at the operations.
After close to a week of rain, the sun was a welcome sight. Before I could even board the small vessel I was asked by the Nova Scotia saltwater production manager, Jeff Nickerson, to step onto a mat soaked in a disinfectant.
That was just one of the precautions I was to experience throughout the morning as part of the effort to stop outside germs coming in contact with the fish farms.
After about a 15-minute ride from the government wharf in Shelburne we reached the first site located off of McNutt’s Island.
Here there was a boat working off one of the various pens stationed at this site.
Workers were busy weighing the, at this stage, small fish.
“Like any farmer we are checking our crops,” said Nickerson.
After a sample of fish was weighed it was time to feed.
The young fish are still fed a soft diet of oils, fish and vitamins to make it easier to digest until they are ready for a harder diet.
Nickerson explained that a lot of research has gone into feeding to minimize waste both for cost and environmental impact.
In the past a camera was placed near the bottom of the pens and when food began dropping near the bottom, the feeding was stopped.
Now, a video monitoring system is aimed at the fish themselves closer to the surface and fish behaviour is studied.
Staff have received indepth training on fish behaviour so the right amount of food is fed to the fish several times throughout the day.
For workers on the farm, their days begin at dawn and don’t end until the sun goes down, not unlike a traditional farmer, said Nickerson.
There have been 27 new employees hired who will work in three teams of two week rotations, working every day, all day until the fish are harvested.
As the small fish grow they will be divided into the other nearby pens until harvested.
On site inspections are done on a monthly basis to ensure fish health, biosecurity and feed management.
After the tour of the Shelburne operations, we drove on to visit Cooke’s two newest aquaculture sites in Jordan Bay.
On the way we passed another small vessel tugging in one of the pens to the site.
At a wharf we got the opportunity to see Don Atkinson Trucking loading one of the boats with feed.
“People don’t always see it,” said Nickerson. “But they are a great example of the spin offs from aquaculture here.”
He said that the company has expanded to include feed delivery and is now largely busy with this venture.
Although aquaculture is a controversial industry for some, Nickerson is happy with the operations in Shelburne County.
“It all comes down to communication,” he said. “On both sides.”
He noted that some fishermen had been concerned about sharing the water with aquaculture operations.
He feels that it hasn’t taken long for fishermen to see for themselves the work Cooke’s is doing and beginning to relax, finding both the fishing and aquaculture relationship working well together.
“People ask if aquaculture and the traditional fishery can co-exist,” he said. “The answer is heck ya ...we have been co-existing in Shelburne for 35 years successfully.”