A 'Namgis First Nation closed-containment aquaculture project about to be constructed near Port McNeill was given an $800,000 boost Monday from the Aquaculture Innovation and Market Access Program (AIMAP).
The funding was announced Monday by Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, in Campbell River. The K'udas Closed Containment Project, which is 100 per cent 'Namgis owned, was one of four Vancouver Island aquaculture projects to receive funding, and netted the vast bulk of the $925,000 total.
"The 'Namgis are people of the salmon, having fished the waters of Northern Vancouver Island for thousands of years," said Chief Bill Cranmer. "We believe First Nations are particularly well-positioned to embrace this economic opportunity."
The K'udas pilot project will utilize a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS), which brings disinfected groundwater into salmon growout tanks and recirculates it through a filtering system. Proponents of the system say it is superior to the current dominant technology in salmon farming, open-net fish pens, as it prevents outflow of untreated waste into open ocean waters and eliminates possible intermixing and disease-spreading between farmed salmon and wild salmon.
No antibiotics or pesticides will be used in the pilot project.
The RAS system has been slow to take hold in the industry, in large part due to higher capital costs. The K'udas project — the name means "place of salmon" in the Kwa'kwala language — intends to prove the business viability of RAS by offsetting those costs with improved efficiency, reduced production costs and a quicker turnaround of product from smolt to marketable salmon.
It will take 12-15 months to grow the salmon to the 3-6 kilogram weight for harvest.
"The industry is developing new technologies that will make our country a world leader in aquaculture and create jobs and opportunities here at home," said Ashfield. "We are proud that our government can play a role in supporting this innovation."
The pilot project will be located on 'Namgis property just south of Port McNeill, near the Highway 19 crossing of the Nimpkish River. It will initially produce between 260 and 290 tonnes of Atlantic salmon, with the first harvest set for September of 2013. The project will accumulate valuable data to help determine the commercial viability of the emerging fish-farming technology on North Vancouver Island and enable the design for a full-scale commercial facility producing about 1,000 tonnes a year, said Cranmer.
The site has been cleared, and construction is scheduled to begin later this month or early in February. The pilot module, with five salmong-growing tanks in a steel-clad building, is expected to be completed in August and the first Atlantic salmon smolts introduced into the quarantine tank in September.
The project will purchase all smolts from certified disease-free Canadian broodstock. The smolts will spend an additional four months in quarantine before being introduced into the growout tanks, and will undergo additional disease testing throughout the project.
Monday's funding announcement highlighted four Vancouver Island aquaculture projects. Pfizer Animal Health in Saanichton received $32,000 for a sea lice vaccine project; Fanny Bay Oyster Company will get $63,000 for new technology and equipment; and Maplestar Seafood of Nanoose Bay will receive $31,000 from AIMAP to develop a new suspended-net system for raising geoducks.
DFO, which assumed control of aquaculture last year, also announced the acquisition of six boats that will serve in monitoring and enforcing Vancouver Island's fish farms.
The K'udas closed-containment pilot, which completed Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency screening and a comprehensive risk assessment in 2011, has received funding from several sources.
During his speech Monday in Campbell River, Cranmer credited Sustainable Development and Technology Canada and the Coast Sustainable Trust for financial support for construction and operation. The project is also supported by DFO's Aquaculture Innovation and Market Access Program, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the SOS Marine Conservation Foundation, the Pacific Salmon Foundation and the Province of British Columbia, through the Investment Agriculture Foundation.
Tides Canada is a critical partner, providing both direct funding and technical advice through the U.S.-based Freshwater Institute.
Total capital cost for the project is $7 million. Once up and running, the facility will be staffed by four employees providing 24-hour, seven-day-a-week coverage during its pilot phase.