Behind the Scenes of Sustainable Aquaculture: My Experience Working on an Arctic Char Fish Farm
by Kendra Sturdee, Co-op Student Summer 2023
Have you ever stopped to consider the journey your favorite seafood took before it ended up on your plate? Or wondered what goes on behind the scenes on an aquaculture farm? Well, as a curious marine biology student with a passion for seafood and environmental responsibility, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to work at Icy Waters, an Arctic char farm based in Whitehorse, Yukon. And let me tell you — it was challenging, hard work. But it was also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life! My name is Kendra Sturdee, and I’m Afishionado’s Co-op student for the Summer 2023 term. This blog outlines my experience working at Icy Waters, and a few reasons why it was so rewarding.
It gave me an entirely new appreciation for the amount of time, labor and energy that goes into producing even just one filet! From egg fertilization to juvenile fish development, I was involved in the entire life cycle of the Arctic char. I spent countless hours on routine husbandry, water quality maintenance, harvesting and processing fish, sampling, and fish moves. The spawning process was particularly fascinating, as I was able to learn a lot about the careful science required to successfully fertilize fish eggs.
But the real adventure was in managing the outdoor fish tanks. These tanks were exposed to the harsh Yukon weather — and lurking predators. While an electric fence kept the bears and the wolves at bay, eagles circled above, eyeing the fish hungrily. And they weren’t the only ones — a family of lynx lived on site! Working alongside these elusive, majestic cats was an incredible experience, although it did take some getting used to…
On night rounds, there were a few times where I’d be walking around alone at 3am, flashlight in hand, and a coyote or lynx would rush past me in the darkness and give me a heart attack. But despite the terrifying nature of these encounters, I loved being immersed in the Yukon wilderness.
Each season in the outdoor farm had its own unique challenge. In the winter, I’d be chipping ice in -25°C temperatures, trying to prevent the water systems from freezing. And in the summer, there were days where I’d be working until midnight trying to fix low oxygen levels in the tanks (a side effect of warmer weather). It was intense, around-the-clock work. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, because I saw firsthand how much effort goes into producing the fish we love to eat.
Working in aquaculture also heightened my awareness of the importance of sustainable seafood in our lives. I was proud to be a part of the Icy Waters team, given the company’s zero-waste approach; not a single scrap goes to waste. Excess trimmings are turned into dog food, and bio waste is given to farmers to use for their crops. Their water systems are also fed by a gravity-based flow from natural streams!
“Aquaculture, done in a socially and environmentally friendly manner, is the only way to meet the growing demand for seafood, while also creating jobs, generating revenues and taking pressure off over-stretched capture fisheries.” – Randall Brummett, the World Bank
As seafood consumers, I encourage you to dive deeper into the journeys of your favorite dishes. It’s important to understand how your choices impact the environment and the future of our oceans.
If you’re feeling unsure of how to buy sustainably… Don’t worry! Here’s a tip: look for ocean-wise approved farms (like Icy Waters), or products with an MSC blue fish label. Additionally, Afishionado only buys from sustainable and responsible fishing practices, so when you eat our fish, you can be SURE that your seafood is coming from a reputable, low-impact source. Help protect our oceans, and all of the incredible creatures that call them home!
Want to learn more? Check out these resources!
- Eight ways aquaculture supports a sustainable earth (2020)
- The state of the world’s fisheries (2020)
- “How to farm better fish” by National Geographic
- “How a Celebrity Chef Learned to Love Farmed and Frozen Fish” by Lindsay Abrams (2018)
- “10 Simple Arctic Char Recipes” (2022)