Shellfish aquaculture is the cultivation and harvesting (farming) of aquatic invertebrates and marine plants. Cultivation implies some form of intervention in the rearing process to enhance production, such as regular stocking and protection from predators. It also implies individual or corporate ownership of the stock being cultivated.
Aquaculture on a subsistence scale has been around in Europe and Asia for centuries. The earliest records of fish farming are from China where the practice has been known of for at least 3500 years, particularly with carp. More recently tilapia has been farmed in Asia, having come from Africa in the 1950s. Even today, some 80% of fish farming takes place in Asia.There is folklore evidence that basic aquaculture was first practiced in Canada by aboriginal peoples through the transfer of fish between streams and rivers. By 1950, a network of federal and provincial hatcheries were producing approximately 750 million freshwater fish and fresh-water spawning fish annually for wild stock enhancement and non-commercial stock expansion.
Shellfish growing has been practiced in British Columbia for at least 100 years. The first introduction of oyster seed was introduced in the Ladysmith Harbour, Boundary Bay and Esquimalt in 1903 (see History of Shellfish growing in BC).
Aquaculture on a commercial basis first began in Canada in the 1970s, and grew very quickly throughout the 1980s. It has now become a significant national contributor as a food product supplier and in economic and employment terms.
Faced with an expanding and increasingly globalized fisheries trade, the Canadian aquaculture industry and federal and provincial governments are developing collective strategies to help Canadian companies realize the full potential of aquaculture.
In Canada, many species of shellfish are cultured commercially or are being researched for their potential as aquaculture species. Mussels, oysters, clams and scallops are the basic species utilized in Canadian aquaculture. New species such as abalone, geoducks, quahogs and sea urchins are in the experimental stages of development.
Aquaculture has displayed rapid growth world wide, expanding by approximately 10% over the past 10 years. This is considerable growth as compared to 3% growth in livestock meat and 1.6% in the capture fisheries over the same time period.
Global aquaculture production, including extensive subsistence farming in Asia, increased by 2 million tonnes to reach 32.9 million tonnes in 1999. Various estimates of the future increase in aquaculture production have been made: By 2010, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that production will be as much as 39 million metric tons. Of all aquaculture products, finfish have shown the largest growth with high value species such as Atlantic salmon passing the one million tonne plateau in 1996.
Overall, a 1997 data report by Price Waterhouse Coopers indicated that the production of finfish (salmon, trout, steelhead, arctic char, tilapia, perch, walleye) and shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams) increased to approximately 83,800 tonnes with a value of $463 million. This represented an industry growth factor since 1996 of approximately 19% for finfish and 5% for shellfish per year.
In terms of world standards, however, Canada is still a relatively small producer, estimated to account for about 0.3% of the world aquaculture production, though rated as the world’s fourth largest salmon producer.
In 2000, according to Statistics Canada, the aquaculture industry generated revenues of $674.1 million compared with $621.4 million in 1999, an 8.5% gain from 1999. New Brunswick and British Columbia accounted for 83.2% of all aquaculture revenues in 2000. In total, aquaculture produced a gross output including sales, subsidies and growth in inventories of $722.47 million in 2000, up 25.1 million from 1999.
To bridge the gap between the wild catch and the demand. As a result of the growing world population and a shift in western societies towards healthier eating patterns, there is likely to be a continuing increase in demand for seafood. Farmed shellfish also provides assurance to the consumer that the product has been obtained from clean water, has been federally inspected and meets the stringent health standards.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)estimated in an interim report, entitled: “Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030″, published in July 2000, that global fish consumption will rise by 25% by 2030. Average world consumption of fish per person could grow from 16 kg a year, in 1999, to 19-20 kg by 2030, raising the total food use of fish to 150-160 million metric tons.
In all areas where shellfish is farmed commercially, governments have put regulations in place. The industry adheres to these regulations and continuously works with various levels of government to identify issues that may benefit from regulation and to ensure that operating practices remain current.
In Canada there are three layers of regulatory process–at the municipal, provincial and federal level. In addition, the responsibility for regulatory enforcement is sometimes split between departments of government within each level.
In British Columbia alone, there are over 14 federal, provincial and municipal departments and agencies directly and indirectly involved in the regulatory and management process of aquaculture. This is reflective of all the other Canadian provinces and territories where aquaculture is carried out.
Aquaculture production facilities operate across the entire landscape of the country, with activities in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairie Provinces, the Yukon, and British Columbia.
Site selection for a shellfish is a process, which can take up to three years because of the complexity of regulation and site management requirements. Many things are taken into account, including such basics as water requirements. These can include water depth, current flow, sheltered location, the proximity of other (local) resource users, salinity, and water temperature and oxygen content.
Other processes also applied are the proximity to sources of pollution, tourist sites, other local forms of fish in the habitat, the potential for algae growth in shallow water locations and the accessibility to a transportation infrastructure that doesn’t contribute to environmental intrusion or damage. Shellfish need incredibly pristine environment and this circumstance is clearly understood within the industry as it continues to upgrade its operating standards.
The majority of shellfish production in BC takes place in Baynes Sound, Cortes Island and Okeover Inlet.
Farmed shellfish are kept on the culture sites through a variety of culture methods. These include beach and deepwater. Shellfish are planted on beaches, set out in bags, shellfish cages, socks, lines, and shellfish trays hung from buoys and/or rafts.
There are many natural predators in these environments including ducks, cormorants, crabs, seals, predatory fish, and starfish. The firm policy is to discourage predation by employing a range of accepted and approved preventative measures, such as nets, which achieve a high rate of success with minimal damage to wildlife.
The aquaculture industry has a direct interest in a clean environment and aims to be a responsible environmental citizen and practice sustainable farming methods. However, the fact that all cultivation of land or water has some effect on the natural environment must be kept in mind.
Throughout the process of improving the sustainability of the industry, we are in constructive dialogues with environmentalists and governments.
BC’s contribution to the global production of farmed shellfish is minuscule at best in global terms. BC ranks as the 12th largest singer producer of Pacific oysters but only produces 0.12% of value. In 2000 BC accounted for 5.0% of North American landed oyster culture value according to FAO.
Virtually the entire commercial harvest of BC oysters is farmed while commercial culture of clams is steadily increasing. The wholesale value of the industry in 2000 was approximately $20 million. While production values are steadily increasing, shellfish farming has not come anywhere near reaching its potential as a key economic driver for coastal communities.
The BCSGA thanks the Canadian Aquaculture Alliance for much of the data contained in this section. For further information about the Alliance, visit www.aquaculture.ca