From Smolt to Spawn: crash course on a West Coast salmon lifecycle

By: James Crofton

Let me take you on a journey. A seemingly impossible journey that starts in a small backwater stream of the Fraser River. It is late spring and the rivers in BC all begin to swell from snow melt high in the mountains. Far up the Fraser river a small Coho salmon fry is hatching. After one or two years of feeding on small invertebrates—never straying too far from the comforts of her stream—she evolves into a smolt and is ready for the open ocean. A mass exodus ensues with the Coho and her relatives all venture out in search of the best feeding grounds. It is a journey against the odds: killer whales, sea lions, dolphins, and man all compete to catch the nutritious fish. She will be hunted for the rest of her life.

How salmon are able to locate the exact stream from which they left is still somewhat of a mystery, but it is believed they use the earth’s magnetic field as well as a keen sense of smell. Should she survive the arduous pilgrimage, what awaits back at her natal stream is equally grim. Along the riverbank, grizzlies, gray wolves, and other scavengers wait in hungry anticipation while bald eagles circle overhead. Her strong body—developed over several years at sea—is needed now more than ever to swim against the current, jump waterfalls and other obstacles, and evade predators until she is back to where it all began. It is a last-ditch effort of sheer willpower. Of the 2500 eggs laid by her mother, she is one of only a few survivors to spawn and carry on the lineage.

As salmon return to spawn, the waiting predators take their kill far into the forest where decomposing salmon carcasses enrich the soil with nutrients, enabling the growth of the towering canopy overhead. Traces of salmon DNA can even be found in the top needles of conifer trees, many miles from the closest stream and hundreds of miles inland. These animals truly are the life force of the Pacific northwest—a link between forest and sea.

Unfortunately, many salmon runs have seen sharp declines in recent years. Some see only a fraction of their historic return numbers while others no longer see any at all. A myriad of challenges now confront salmon, threatening their future survival in some places. By-catch and overfishing continue to put pressure on the species while the logging of old-growth forests is altering stream habitats and creating impassable barriers. Open-net pen aquaculture presents an additional threat. With so many fish crammed into a small space, disease and lice can spread quickly and have shown to spread to their wild counterparts. As seen at one of Cooke Aquaculture’s sites in Washington State, these pens are also prone to collapse, releasing thousands of farmed salmon into the open ocean where they can outcompete wild salmon for food and space, and even prey upon them.

Now, more than ever, new technologies are needed to provide alternative sources of salmon protein that alleviate pressure on wild stocks without polluting the marine environment. One such solution is moving salmon farms on land. Aquaculture presents us with an enormous opportunity to feed the world while taking pressure off wild populations. However, to fulfill its potential aquaculture must be acted on with sustainability as a pillar to its foundation. We are very proud to be able to offer Sustainable Blue, land-raised Atlantic salmon; a farm only an hour outside of Halifax! They are at the forefront of land-based technology and boast a 100% recirculating salt water aquaculture facility. The fish they yield are nutritious, tasty, and most importantly, do not harm our wild salmon populations. Stay tuned for our next post all about Sustainable Blue!

Oyster of the Month: Foxley River

This month’s featured oyster for our monthly Oyster Box Club was none other than the Foxley River. This is a beloved oyster by all, not only for its creaminess and delicate balance of sweet and salty, but for its perfectly formed shape, deep cup, full meat, and shuck- ability.

In the words of Martin O’Brien (one of the main growers behind the whole operation!):

“…they are a cocktail oyster that are 3-4 years old. Tumbled to encourage thickness and round shape.  We don’t harvest early just because “they reached market length”, we wait it out an extra 1-2 years so that they are at peak maturity and meatiness. Because of this, they’re extremely easy to shuck! They’re grown using off-bottom cage culture by the O’Brien family in Foxley River, which is part of the Cascumpec Bay river system.  Our lease is near a peat-bog which gives our oysters a [insert flavour notes here] and has a nice salty taste, but not too much.”

Foxley River oysters hail from the Cascumpec Bay Oyster Company , a family run business in operation since 2007. The farm was originally started by Pat and Darlene O’Brien but was expanded on when Martin and Matt teamed up in 2015. Since then, they have added a few more independent growers to the roster, Ryan Leclair, an electrician by trade, and Aaron Sweet who has deep familial roots on the Island.

Martin O’Brien alongside Matt Morgan on the farm.
Ryan Leclair, tending to his oysters in the rich waters near Cascumpec Bay.


Pat and Marlene O’Brien, the original farmers and choosiest oyster graders.
Aaron Sweet tending to his Sweet Select oyster lease.

An excellent oyster, the Foxley River is wonderful whether you’re a beginner in the oyster consumption world or a complete expert. Want to sign up for our OYSTER OF THE MONTH CLUB? Just check it out on our Monthly Subscription Page.



Seasons are changing – and so are we, here at Afishionado

Over the course of the last year, maintaining Catch of the Week as a premiere first subscription service has become a challenge. 

  • Recently, the availability of fresh-caught, local, wild species has been declining. 
  • Access to large, pelagic fish that have been caught using a method we support has been an issue.
  • The logistics of serving multiple communities spread across the Maritimes has proven difficult

However, it’s not all bad news! Shellfish aquaculture is at an exciting time here in Nova Scotia – seeing unprecedented knowledge in the industry and consumer interest. As you know, our fearless leader Hana is part of an oyster farming family, and we are seeing families like hers lead the province into a more sustainable future. 

We are also sourcing fish from new places, where fishers and farmers are doing things right. For example, we’ve found haddock from a rural part of Newfoundland that is caught through a method we support. The haddock is caught as by-catch from a directed, ocean wise recommended fishery. However, because of the logistics of buying from a rural community, the fish needs to be frozen upon landing to maintain a high quality. High quality frozen fish is becoming increasingly common – including our British Columbia sockeye salmon, and Indonesian yellowfin tuna – so why not just give our customers the frozen fish? This allows you to decide when to thaw and consume it!

We want to provide the highest quality seafood anywhere in Atlantic Canada and to do this we’ve decided to change our subscription model and include these foundations:

  • High quality frozen seafood, from sustainable fisheries on a monthly basis
  • By buying in bulk, and processing into individually frozen portions at our plant, we can decrease costs for our customers. We want you to know exactly how much each fish costs in the box. By buying in bulk, as part of a Community Supported Fisheries (CSF) program, you’re actually getting each fish portion for a discounted rate!
  • A frozen supply chain simplifies logistics and reduces waste.  
  • Convenient portions are a perfectly easy way to add protein to your diet for you and your family. 

The case for frozen

In reality, “fresh – never -frozen” fish does not actually taste better than flash-frozen fish. In fact, frozen fish may be better for your tastebuds, wallet, and the health of our oceans and fishing communities. 

You have probably heard that fresh is always better – from fishmongers and chefs to the branding on mass produced seafood products – however in the global seafood supply chain, “fresh fish” is often much less fresh than advertised. Seafood is shipped long distances, where it sits on fishing boats, distribution centres, loading docks, trucks, and warehouses before it gets to market – leading to not so fresh fish. When seafood travels between so many middlemen on its route to your plate, there is a higher risk of transparency issues like mislabelling and fraud. 

By freezing their catch, small-scale fishers can preserve the high-quality of their fish instead of exporting it to the lowest bidder before it goes bad. Consumers are able to access any fish any time, regardless of the season, and fishers are able to sell directly to consumers or companies like us rather than large distributors who pay pennies-per-pound. Freezing our fish also allows us to shop around, finding the best prices, highest quality and buying in bulk.


But what about Oysters?

As our business has grown, we have become a more important player in the shellfish community. After all, Hana is part of a shellfish farming family. We’d like to celebrate these roots, and those of our hardworking fishing and farming families, by starting an Oyster of The Month Club. 

Oyster of the Month is our way of offering you oysters directly from farms across the Maritimes, and provides an avenue to tell the story of the fishing and farming families that are doing things right. We want to foster a connection between you and our oyster producers.

St. Simon oysters from Shippagan, NB, photo by Jess Emin

Catch of the Month Club – how it works

Joining the Catch of the Month Club for $10 a year allows you to subscribe to monthly seafood boxes, get first access to our specials, and invitations to quarterly shucking workshops, tastings, tours, and special events. The $10 membership pays for the platform used to host these bonuses, and focus on supporting fishing families and fostering a community where sustainable seafood practices thrive. In return, customers become part of the sustainable fishing and farming community here in Nova Scotia. 

Signing up for a frozen box means that you will control what is in your box, know exactly what you are getting, and how it is discounted. It also means that you only have to pick up your share once a month, while continuing to receive incredible tasting seafood in the same quantity as before. And like always, skip your box delivery any time before it renews!

Seafood Boxes

Oyster club ($75 or $140 per month)

Oyster club directly supports oyster families, and allows you to receive a discounted price for buying in bulk. High in zinc and magnesium, oysters are great for parties, and actually last for several weeks in your fridge!

  • 50 or 100 oysters per month (one type)
  • Information about the oyster farm: taste profile, farmer bio, shape, location, story, etc.
  • Information about oysters in general
  • Extra add ons available such as shuckers and mignonettes

    The ShanDaph crew at the Halifax Oysterfest 2017

Fit Fish ($60)

Fit Fish includes white fish and red fish – which are high in omega 3’s! Great for families, or anyone who enjoys a variety of fin fish. 

  • 2 lb red fish, 2 lb white fish
  • 6-8 portions (8 oz – 1 lb portions)
  • Portions may include: Arctic char, Atlantic salmon, sockeye salmon, smoked salmon, steelhead trout, tuna, Hake, pollock, haddock, halibut cheeks, halibut fillet

    Fit Fish is a great mix of redfish and whitefish!

School of Fish ($45)

Our most affordable box, School of Fish is a great way to ensure your family gets enough protein! This box includes only white fish – more mild fish that are great for soaking up seasoning and sauces. 

  • 4 lb of white fish
  • 6-8 portions (8 oz – 1 lb portions)
  • Portions may include: Hake, pollock, haddock, cusk, cod, halibut cheeks, halibut fillet

Plenty of (shell)Fish Box ($60)

Our most diverse box, Plenty of (shell)Fish offers a little bit of everything – great for those that like shellfish, enjoy cooking, or eat a lot of chowder.

  • 2 lb shellfish, 2 lb fish
    6-8 portions (8 oz – 1 lb portions) 
  • Portions may include: Arctic char, atlantic salmon, sockeye salmon, smoked salmon, steelhead trout, tuna, Hake, pollock, haddock, halibut cheeks, halibut fillet, cod, coldwater shrimp, black tiger shrimp, white shrimp, scallops, crab meats