AQUACULTURE: “You were just lucky. It’ll never work you know”, he whispered softly over my shoulder.

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Much to everyone’s amazement, in 1979 we had gotten the first small batch of Atlantic salmon parr through from their battered beginning at the Mactaquac Hatchery on the St. John River to beautiful plump market fish that brought better than $7.00 per pound  wholesale on the market … making our first test run a break-even financially and crediting us with the first ever commercial Atlantic salmon business in North America.

Wanda Huber feeding the first smolts in the first ever Atlantic Salmon Cages on Deer Island, NB


Now mind you most of the first smolts had considerable difficulty staying vertical since their fins were so worn that they were almost useless. Interesting to note that the first commercial sales of Atlantic salmon came from Mactaquac Hatchery smolts that were destined to be buried because of fin wear from their concrete tanks. I had been bugging the “system” for years getting them to buy into a trial on Deer Island where our work had established higher winter temperatures suggesting superchill was not really a serious problem there. I’m guessing they figured these crappy little fish would all die and I would then go away and stay our of their hair. Well, we didn’t go away .. although many times I wish I had … maybe some place where innovative entrepreneurs are valued … particularly when some of the later entries took up a petition to prevent MRA from proceeding with their trials and development. Some of those folks are millionaires today!

After our first success we immediately set up Marine Research Associates Ltd’s commercial salmon operation which eventually was phased into Marine Products Inc in Canada and Ocean Products Inc. In Eastport, Maine. and went after more smolts … the Feds being the only source.

Even then there were many derisive comments, chuckles and smiles. At our meeting with the Fish Health Branch of DFO in Halifax where we were lobbying to buy smolts and get their help with food formulation and fish health, the bureaucrats were less than thrilled with our development stating that they had “enough work to do already”. Their position became really clear near the end of the meeting, when one of their head guys leaned over my shoulder and said, “You were just lucky. It’ll never work you know”

A long story yet to be told. But for now … I encountered some old pictures of our cage sites through from the first in 1978 to the larger wooden adaptation over the next couple of years. Actually these worked really well considering they were fabricated with virtually no money using local materials and the expertise of locals who made nets for the herring fishery. Remember the aquaculture industry was still in its infancy in Norway and we were it in North America … no money, no fancy rigs, no polar circles … nothing. Do it yourself or be damned.

It is sometimes amusing, sometimes frustrating, and sometimes infuriating when I read the current take on aquaculture and see where it has ended up since it began back in the late 70s. And I expect to write more about this over the winter. But for the moment you might like to read Dr. John Anderson’s take on the development of the industry or own a copy of the report on the first successful commercial operation. Oh and by the way, I am the “one man” referred to in John’s book! Just follow the links below.

The Salmon ConnectionThe Salmon ConnectionThe Development of Atlantic Salmon Aquaculture in Canada

Atlantic Salmon is the basis both for Canada’s highest profile recreational fishery and its largest aquaculture industry. It has more than a hundred years of conservation behind it, which provided the scientific foundation for the aquaculture industry’s early success.

What no one saw coming, were problems associated with interactions between wild and aquaculture salmon. This book explains why the industry was so slow to follow the lead from Norway, where the industry first began.

It follows the industry from its beginning in New Brunswick, showing the risk taking that was involved, and how one man, with a few government partners, defied conventional wisdom to demonstrate that it was in fact a viable industry for this country.

There is reason to be optimistic for the future of Atlantic salmon aquaculture in Canada.

September 2007
Glen Margaret Publishing

And the report is at:


Enjoy and may the farce be with you too!!

Art MacKay

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