Aquaculture North America

Acadian Fish Farm looking to rebound

May 31, 2023
By Matt Jones

New Brunswick farm lost 95 percent of stock during cold snap

Frozen sensors caused this generator to malfunction, leading to the loss of roughly 100,000 Arctic char. Photos: acadian fish farm ltd.

A New Brunswick fish farm are hoping to rebound after losing most of their fish earlier this year. Emmanuel Chiasson of Acadian Fish Farm Ltd/Pisciculture Acadienne Ltée says that his company lost 95 percent of their arctic char, roughly 100,000 fish valued at more than $600,000, when a cold snap caused equipment malfunctions. After several very trying months, Chiasson now hopes that the provincial government and the other agencies will be able to provide some support to keep his business running.

“The province is going to pay to send a consultant to visit and see if they can improve our facility and increase production and see if they can find a way to survive long term even with the losses we had,” said Chiasson. “We’ll have to see what his recommendation is and then see ACOA (the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) or the Atlantic Fisheries Fund (AFF) to see if we can line something up.”

Acadian Fish Farm utilize an indoor recirculating aquaculture system to raise Arctic char without the use of hormones or antibiotics. The company does not use energy for either heating or cooling tanks. 

Frozen sensors lead to disaster
The incident which caused the fish losses occurred in early February, when wind chill values ranged between -40 and -50 C . One of the farm’s employees lives in a small house on site and he was alerted immediately when the power went out. He restarted the generator, but contacted Chiasson when it wouldn’t stay on. 

The owner of Acadian Fish Farm Ltd. says that the province should have more supports in place for when things go wrong if it truly wants to support the aquaculture industry.

“The generator worked, the problem was keeping it steady because it was too cold for the sensors,” said Chiasson. “The generator would start but it would shut off after a few minutes. It took me about a half hour to get there. I went up to the generator to try to figure out what was going on – it was so cold that you couldn’t change windows on the screen.”

What followed was several hours of Chiasson and the farm’s employees frantically trying to thaw out the sensors using a heater. They eventually succeeded, but not quickly enough to save the fish, which died due to a lack of oxygen reaching the tanks. 

“It was quite a feeling to go in there and see all those fish turned upside down,” said Chiasson.

As of right now, the farm has not laid off any of its five employees and continues to raise the remaining fish on site. But whether Acadian Fish Farm will survive will depend on what the consultant’s findings are and how ACOA or the AFF will respond. However, even if they do offer a solution, it could be too little too late – by the time the farm is back up and running, most of its customers will likely have found other fish sources.

“It takes like two years to build an inventory like that,” Chiasson told the CBC shortly after the incident. “I don’t know what’s going to be next, but for sure we’re going to need help.”

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Purchased infrastructure should be evaluated
Chiasson purchased the facility in 2013 and started to raise fish the following year. One key takeaway from this experience has been not to accept that infrastructure on the farm is in the best possible position just because its there when you take over, he says. In particular, with the benefit of hindsight, he wouldn’t have left the generator set up outdoors.

Emmanuel Chiasson of Acadian Fish Farm Ltd. is determined to stay in the aquaculture industry, even if his farm is unable to recover from its losses.

“When we bought the facility in 2013, we should have changed the generator and had it inside a little building or something like that. I would say, if somebody builds a facility, put the generator inside – don’t use a self-enclosed unit,” said Chiasson. “We have a poultry farm also, and we have two generators. We have one that’s inside and has had no problems at all. But we also built a rearing facility that has a 60 kilowatt self-enclosed unit and it’s not the best. In fact, once I came just to do a checkup on the generator and there was a snake wrapped along the main belt in front. If the generator had started, the belt would have slipped off because of the snake. When I saw that, I said, geez, we should put a building on top of that generator.”

The fact that the fish were not insured is another significant challenge. Chiasson had attempted to obtain insurance in the past, but as the insurance company wanted 10 percent of the stock value – roughly $60,000 to $70,000 per year – they couldn’t afford it. He also theorizes that the past owner of the farm’s interactions with the insurance company left them in a disadvantageous position.

“The previous owner had found an insurance company in Miramichi but they had a problem with the facility,” said Chiasson. “The previous owner didn’t even have an alarm system, so when a pipe blew up he lost the fish and he collected the insurance. So when we took over, the company didn’t want to insure it again.”

What else could be done?
Even if the province, ACOA and others can provide no support, Chiasson says that this won’t be the end of his time in the aquaculture industry – he’ll find a new business partner and start again. Regardless, he does feel that there is more that could be done, given how much pride Atlantic provinces take in their aquaculture industries.

“There should be a fund for that, because the provinces want to push aquaculture, but its hard to get people into that,” said Chiasson. “Even for us, we tried to get insurance but we couldn’t get insurance. Maybe the province needs to say ‘we’ll cover up to 50 percent’ if something happens like that to offer some security. Even the banks, after that, if you don’t have security on that you can’t get anything. I think if they want to promote the industry, they have to put something in place to encourage people and lower the risk.”

Representatives for ACOA declined to comment at this time. 


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