FAQ: The Truth About Aquaculture

What is aquaculture?

Aquaculture is the controlled farming of fresh water and marine finfish, shellfish, and some aquatic plants. It is a significant sustainable industry in Nova Scotia that provides jobs and contributes to the economy of small coastal communities across the province.

What species are grown in Nova Scotia?

A variety of shellfish, finfish, and aquatic plants are farmed in Nova Scotia. Farmed species of shellfish include: Soft shell clams, Blue Mussels, American Oysters, European Oysters, Quahogs, and Scallops. Finfish that are farmed include: Arctic Char, Halibut, Atlantic Salmon, European Sea Bass and Trout. Aquatic plants farmed in Nova Scotia are Irish Moss and Knotted Wrack.

How do I get involved?

Aquaculture is an ever-expanding industry, with room for more seafood farmers. In Nova Scotia, aquaculture is regulated and monitored by the provincial Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture and by several agencies of the federal government. Potential aquaculture operators must apply to the provincial government for the necessary licences and leases to establish an actual fish farm.   For more information on how you can get involved contact either the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (www.gov.ns.ca/fish/aquaculture) or the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia (www.aansonline.ca).

Are fish dyed a certain colour to make them more appealing? Will those chemicals harm me?

Farmed fish are not ‘dyed’ to change their colour and they are not given chemicals to make their colour more appealing. Wild salmon obtain their pink colour from the carotenoids found in their diet. These pigments contained in small crustaceans are important antioxidants, so they are added to the diets of farmed fish to maintain the health benefits, not only for the fish but also for humans.

How do treatments for one fish species affect another species?

Treatments applied to farmed fish present only a minimal risk to other seafood species. To ensure that other species are not placed at risk and to safeguard the health of humans, marine life and the environment, the Nova Scotia aquaculture industry is tightly regulated by both the federal and provincial governments.

What are they fed?

Finfish and shellfish rely on completely different food sources due to their very different needs. Finfish are fed food pellets which are specially formulated in feed mills which vary in size and composition depending upon the species of fish being farmed and the fish’s stage of development. Shellfish are filter feeders and rely on the ocean’s water column for their food. They feed primarily on phytoplankton and zooplankton.

How do I know that the products I buy have been grown sustainably?

Through the conditions outlined in an operators lease and license, an aquaculture farm must be operated in an environmentally sustainable manner. In addition, many sea farmers are turning to third party environmental sustainability certifiers for accreditation.

What is the AANS?

The Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia represents and is the advocate for people involved in the aquaculture industry in this province. It includes farmers of shellfish and finfish, fish processors, fish hatchery & nursery owner-operators, land-based recirculation operators involved in alternate species, and a range of industry suppliers.

Where are the farms located in Nova Scotia?

Aquaculture farms are mainly found in coastal communities across the province, from the southwest shore in the western end of the province and all the way east to and including Cape Breton. There are also many land based hatcheries and closed containment grow-out facilties throughout Nova Scotia. For the most part, these farms are owned, operated and staffed by local people with experience in the fishing industry.

Do First Nations people in Nova Scotia have any involvement in aquaculture?

Yes, they are currently involved and may have even pioneered the practice of aquaculture in Nova Scotia. There is evidence that impounding weirs and round ponds (holding ponds) were used by the Mi’kmaw people late in the 16th century and early in the 17th century.  In modern times, Eskasoni First Nation established a successful oyster farm in the Bras d’Or lakes in the 1970s. In the 1990’s a new means of retrieving oyster spat was developed by Eskasoni Fisheries and Wildlife and, in 1995, a fisheries co-operative was formed by Chapel Island First Nation.  Currently, several First Nations groups are involved in aquaculture.

Where does the fish feed come from?

All finfish feed ingredients are approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. All ingredients are of natural origin and are often the same as those used in the production of feed for domestic animals, including oilseed meals, grain products, protein-rich meals of animal origin (fish, poultry), fish and plant oils. Fishmeal is an important component of fish feed, and the species used to make it are typically small or bony fish, with a low proportion of edible flesh and for which there are few alternative uses. Essential vitamins and minerals are added to the diet to ensure the fish are getting the required amounts.

Are farmed fish better than wild fish?

Farmed and wild fish are equally good for you. Both products provide vitamins, are high in protein, and also contain Omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are beneficial for human health. The only difference is that wild fish are seasonal and are sometimes sold frozen, which decreases their nutritional value.  Farmed fish are fresh, are available year-round, and provide an excellent source of nutrition for consumers.

Are farmed fish safe to eat?

Yes, farmed fish are safe for human consumption. Both wild and farmed seafood, particularly finfish, can provide many health benefits. In fact, farmed Atlantic salmon have higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids than any species of wild Pacific salmon. Since the diets and environments of farmed species are regulated, it is easier to ensure the health and safety of the fish.

What are the environmental impacts from finfish farming?

The impacts of finfish farming are limited to the immediate vicinity below the aquaculture site. The decomposition of feces and leftover food immediately below the site causes temporary chemical changes in the environment and reduces oxygen levels. Fortunately, these conditions are completely reversible. Fish farm sites are closely monitored by the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture through its Environmental Monitoring Program, (EMP).  The EMP focuses on the impact of aquaculture on bottom sediment rather than the water column itself.  This provides a more accurate assessment of any environmental change that may occur. After eight years of regular monitoring and analysis, the EMP has determined that the environmental impact of aquaculture is generally very low.

What are the benefits of aquaculture?

There are numerous benefits from aquaculture. First, it provides a healthy food source for a growing world population. It can also help reduce the pressure on wild stocks by helping to supply the growing demand for seafood in the world. Responsible aquaculture is sustainable, which means it can provide a steady supply of healthy products to the market and create wealth in local communities for generations to come without damaging the environment or displacing existing fisheries. There are many examples throughout the world where aquaculture has been practised sustainably for centuries.

Do left over food and fish feces pollute the ocean?

No, left over food and fish feces do not pollute the ocean. In fact, fish feces has been found to help regulate the pH of the ocean. Fish produce calcium carbonate, which helps to make the ocean more alkaline, thus reducing the ocean’s CO2 content.

How big is the aquaculture industry in Nova Scotia?

The aquaculture industry accounts for approximately 200 aquaculture businesses across the province. It is a significant contributor to the Nova Scotia economy, in terms of both employment and cash value. It provides direct jobs for approximately 750 people and the production value is estimated at $57 million.

Where can I buy farmed fish?

Most consumers buy farmed fish from their local supermarkets or fish markets.  The larger fish farming companies do not sell their products directly to the public; instead, they provide large orders to grocers and markets on a wholesale basis.  However, consumers can purchase certain seafood products from the smaller aquaculture companies, generally at local fish and farm markets. For more information please refer to the products section of our website

How does a sea farmer maintain healthy fish stocks?

Like most animals, fish require the proper living conditions to survive. Sea farmers are able to provide viable living conditions, nutritious food, and reduce the levels of stress for the fish. The support of aquatic veterinarians is also required to help maintain the health of fish. Combined, this provides healthy fish for human consumption.

Will farmed fish effect the health of wild fish?

No, farmed fish will not affect the health of wild fish. Sea farmers screen their brood stock for disease, provide the proper water quality, proper nutrition and fish health care. This produces healthy fish to be released into the farms. Farmed fish enter the farm in very healthy condition and therefore have a much higher survival rate than wild stocks.

What are the environmental impacts of shellfish farming?

The impacts of shellfish farming are localized and generally positive. Shellfish farms stimulate phytoplankton, algae and plant growth, and increase the abundance of deposit feeders, fish, and crustaceans. This is a positive benefit.   However, if large amounts of mussels are allowed to fall off the suspended socks it can temporarily adversely affect the ocean bottom directly below the site.  This situation is limited to the area where the fall-off occurred and is temporary. Overall, environmental monitoring, research and studies of sites have determined that any risks can be managed with good planning and mitigation measures so that any impact is minimal.

Why do we need aquaculture?

Traditional fisheries cannot meet the demand to help feed the world’s growing population. Where aquaculture already provides more than half of the fish eaten by humans globally, it is one solution to this problem. Aquaculture also provides jobs for people in traditional fisheries who have become displaced because of declining fish stocks and other factors.

Don’t salmon contain high levels of contaminants such as PCBs that are harmful to people?

Minute traces of contaminants such as PCB’s are found in most food products, including both wild and farmed fish. Like most foods, farm-raised fish are tested regularly to ensure contaminant levels remain low. PCB levels in farmed salmon are at about 1-3% of concern levels set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Why is Nova Scotia an excellent location for aquaculture?

Nova Scotia is an excellent location for aquaculture because of its extensive coastline, which provides ideal conditions for fish farming. And, our long history in the traditional fishery gives sea farmers the knowledge and support they need to develop fish farming for the future. Nova Scotia is also an ideal location for trade with the United States and Europe.

Does aquaculture co-exist with the traditional fishery?

Yes, aquaculture works in harmony with the traditional fishery and offers coastal communities new opportunities to diversify their economy and create jobs for local people. Sea farmers benefit from fishing industry infrastructure that already exists in coastal communities. And, in many cases, people who have spent their lives in the traditional fishery are now investing in aquaculture as a full-time business because of the opportunities it presents and also as a way of diversifying their fishing activity.

Will the antibiotics used on the fish harm me?

No, the antibiotics used on farmed fish will not harm humans. Antibiotics are used only to help cure fish that are sick and must be prescribed by a licenced veterinarian. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency dictates that no harvesting of fish for consumption can occur until the medications are cleared from the fish’s system; therefore, the antibiotics do not harm humans who consume the fish.

Do Nova Scotia fish farmers grow genetically modified fish?

No, genetically modified fish are not grown in Nova Scotia. It is against the law (federal) to grow genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for aquaculture purposes anywhere in Canada.

Are antibiotics used on the fish?

Antibiotics are used on farmed fish only when they are sick and only when prescribed by a licensed veterinarian.  Farmed fish have the lowest levels of antibiotic use of any type of livestock. Treatments are conducted following the strict rules of the treatment protocol of the Veterinarian Drug Directorate.

How is aquaculture sustainable?

Where traditional fisheries struggle to remain sustainable over the long term due to variables that are often out of their control, sea farmers are not faced with this problem. Aquaculture enables fish farmers to control and maintain the conditions the fish require for good health and growth, and to manage farmed fish populations to suit the local environment.

How does fish farming impact the oceans?

Fish farming has some impact on the oceans, but because of the way aquaculture is practised and monitored in Nova Scotia, that impact is very slight and temporary. Since 2003, the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture’s Environmental Monitoring Program (EMP) has determined that even the temporary impact of aquaculture is limited to the boundaries of a fish farm. It has also shown that when given a rest period between production cycles called “fallowing,” farm sites can fully recover.  Aquaculture also takes some of the pressure off the ocean’s traditional fish stocks by providing another way to help meet increasing world demand for healthy seafood choices.