By: Meg MacKay
Photos: Meg MacKay
Wesley (Wes) Hearn is the Sales and Processing Manager manager at Hamilton’s, a land-based fish farm that cultivates rainbow trout in Bridgetown, Nova Scotia. The farm was started by Roland Hamilton in 2018, and they have been expanding ever since. The farm has a staff of nine people who come from completely different backgrounds. Now, working together at Hamilton’s, they feel like family. “Roland’s always had a dream to grow rainbow trout, and, in building his business, what he’s done is he’s got all of us together,” said Wes.
One thing that surprised Wes when he started at Hamilton’s was the sense of community, and the kindness from other land-based fish farmers. Unlike in some industries, where companies don’t share their knowledge and expertise because of competition, other fish farmers have been very helpful. “Everybody in this fish industry that I’ve talked to, has welcomed me with open arms, and been an open book,” said Wes. “There are no secrets. If they know something that I don’t they are more than willing to help us, and it blows me away.”
The first building at Hamilton’s is a maze of tanks of different sizes. Everyday, the fish are hand fed so staff can test oxygen levels and monitor fish behavior. The second building has a row of larger tanks on each side. Wes said it’s just the developmental nature of the project – they’ve had to try out different designs to figure out what works best. “There’s no blueprint to fish farming, you literally have to figure everything out. Whether it comes to the chemical breakdown of the water, the biofilters, the ammonia.”
At Hamilton’s, the fish live in tanks filled with fresh well water. This water is then filtered, and the clean freshwater is recirculated, which helps minimize water use. With each new building, Hamilton’s has been increasing the amount of water that is recirculated, with a goal of recirculating 95-100% of the water. Wes says a lot of their customers are looking for sustainable seafood. Hamilton’s is proudly Ocean Wise recommended, and does not use antibiotics, growth hormones or artificial pigments.
Wes once had a call from a customer from Gander, Newfoundland, who was concerned about the environmental impact of open-net pen farming and wanted to know how the fish were raised before buying from Hamilton’s. “She had to know my story before she bought the fish, ” said Wes. “As soon as the conversation was done, I thought I was going to be going over there for tea.”
Instead, Wes ended up inviting her family living in Nova Scotia to the farm so that they could learn more about land-based fish farming. “We’re very proud of what we do, and I give a lot of tours,” said Wes. Of course, for the time being they are only giving tours provided they can respect COVID regulations.
One of the bizarre challenges Hamilton’s faces is a market expectation for bright orange and red fish, which often comes from adding either artificial or natural pigment. Hamilton’s has decided to use feed with natural pigment, but chooses not to add artificial pigment. The color of their rainbow trout is a pale orange and pale pink.
“I was absolutely flabbergasted that I could put a natural trout on people’s plate, that was totally chemical free, but nobody would buy it because it wasn’t that dark, pink like salmon.”
Now, Hamilton’s puts stickers on their packaging to let people know that their rainbow trout are a natural pale orange. Wes says although they still have a long way to go, education on natural fish coloring is helping.
Hamilton’s Rainbow Trout can be found locally at through our online shop HERE, in person at The Warehouse Market, throughout the Valley, and at Coleman’s stores across Newfoundland.
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