Aquaculture North America

Diversity dialogues

May 28, 2024
By Ben Normand

Six conversations about inclusion within the aquaculture industry

Photo: © IMRON HAMSYAH / Adobe Stock

Industry insiders will tell you that there is a strong and positive upward trend in workforce diversity in the North American aquaculture industry, and they’re right.  Regardless of which species, life stage or production methodology one explores, the backgrounds of those working to bring high-quality seafood to market are diversifying.  

This diversification is happening for many different reasons beyond any statutory prohibitions against discrimination. For example, labour shortages are motivating some companies to actively recruit internationally.  

This diversification is happening organically in some companies, while other companies are actively encouraging it at a corporate policy level.  

Mowi is the largest producer of Atlantic salmon. It employs more than 11,800 people and is represented in 25 countries. As an industry leader, the company has created its ownPolicy on Diversity and Inclusion” which sets a corporate goal of achieving a 30/70 female-to-male management ratio and a 50/50 employee gender ratio by 2025.  


As of their 2022 Integrated Annual Report, Mowi has achieved 25.6/74.4 female-to-male management ratio and 39/61 female-to-male employee ratio.

The basis of any sound qualitative exploration of a socio-economic trend is the stories of those experiencing that trend.  To that end, this writer presents six conversations with aquaculture workers of diverse backgrounds.

While this article does not constitute an exhaustive exploration of the topic, one could reasonably conclude two things.  First, this process of diversification results in a generally positive outcome for both the company and those experiencing it. 

Second, as with any transition, there is room for improvement in the execution.  So far, industry professionals are generally proving they are up for the challenge.  

Albert Frank
Senior director of Reconciliation, Cermaq Canada

Photo: Cermaq Canada

Albert Frank (a.k.a. “Fonz”) is a member of the Ahousaht First Nation on Vancouver Island. He has been working in salmon farming on the island for nearly 25 years. Beginning in operations, he now acts as both a representative of his nation and of Cermaq. He works to progress the goals of the company and the economic prosperity of his community.  

Ahousaht representation within the ranks of Cermaq Canada employees has risen 56 percent since he began this role, and 41 employees identify as First Nations or Métis. In reflecting on his experiences with diversity on the farm sites, it was the relationships and growth that he focused on.  

“When I was a site manager,” he recalls, “we would take turns cooking, so it was always nice to have different cultures’ food and I was always open to new dishes and most of it was really tasty.”   

When asked what he would say to anyone thinking of entering the industry, he offered a simple yet impactful assessment of the people. “We’re a great industry to work for, we got good people here,” he said.

Paskee Navitidad
Mussel boat deckhand in Atlantic Canada

One year ago, Paskee Navitidad was working with a missionary organization in the Philippines, when he and some of his acquaintances, were offered the opportunity to come to Atlantic Canada to work on a mussel boat fleet.  

 “We grabbed the opportunity and trusted that it would work out…not knowing what mussel farming is, but it’s what puts food on the table,” he said, reflecting on his motivation to leave home and try something new. “It’s not for yourself anymore, it’s for your family, it’s for your kids.”  

In reflecting on his experience integrating into a new profession and country, he says the experience has been a positive one with some challenges.

“The major difficulty is how physical the work can get,” he said. “This whole mussel operation is something else to me… I have seen the Islanders as accommodating… they will teach you.  It has been quite a good time working with the people.”

Dhara Mistry
Accounts Receivable and Payable, Cermaq Canada

About a year and a half ago, Dhara Mistry came from Mumbai to Campbell River to work for Cermaq Canada in their accounting department. When asked of her initial impressions of Canada, the snow was what struck her the most. 

“It was really amazing to see the beautiful climate, like snow, the first time I saw it, I was excited,” she said. 

 Her professional transition has been both challenging and positive. “I haven’t learned so much about fish before.  It’s a completely different industry – a completely different way of accounting,” she said. “It’s really amazing and I’m enjoying it. People are really helpful, really supportive… I saw in my work culture they all came together, and they supported me. It was not like I was a newcomer.”  

Mistry explained that if she was having trouble with the work, she immediately felt supported by her colleagues.  

Carla Muñoz
Hatchery technician, Cermaq Canada

Photo: Carla Muñoz

Carla Muñoz is a young woman originally from Chile, who now works and lives on southern Vancouver Island. In Chile, she worked in the aquaculture industry. Initially, she had hoped to work on a sea site, “but being a woman, it’s hard to get a job like that in Chile.”  

Instead, she worked in a laboratory and then with the government. Eventually, she applied for a Canadian work permit, and when she received one, she decided to take the opportunity to try something new. She worked briefly as a housekeeper, but her experience quickly landed her a position as a hatchery technician with Cermaq Canada.  

When asked to reflect on her experience of coming to a new country, she did not mince words about the initial challenge. 

“At the beginning, it was a little difficult because my English wasn’t good at all,” she said. “It’s been a lot of struggling because moving from another country to another culture.”  

However, she has nothing but good things to say about her experience working in the industry in Canada. 

“I really appreciate all the opportunity this company has given me so far… The difference between Chile and here is here males and females do the same thing… Everyone is the same here, it doesn’t matter if you are a woman. I really like that,” she said.

Evan (name changed)
Restoration hatchery volunteer in British Columbia

Evan is a young, neuro-diverse man with learning disabilities. In pursuit of his passion for working with wildlife, he found himself working at a hatchery on Vancouver Island. His experience was, unfortunately, not a positive one. 

His invisible disabilities have been a challenge in the past. Many of his employers have doubted his capabilities but, he is passionate and dedicated to his work.  

Evan’s former employer initially looked to make accommodations for his disabilities. The process was a frustrating one and, in the end, it was concluded that he wouldn’t be able to do the work and he was laid off. 

Despite the setback, he has since moved on and is now enjoying his work as a volunteer at a wild salmonid stock enhancement facility.

Evan’s past experiences have motivated him to actively pursue further information on his case and he is working to advocate for disability rights within the industry.

“I would like to see more diversity in coming years, including recruiting more diverse volunteers – including females, new Canadians, and persons with disability. Being volunteers, diversity means survival, and it better reflects the community, and increases our effectiveness of conservation work.”

Emilia Mercer
Farm manager, Mowi Canada East

Photo: Emilia Mercer

Emilia Mercer was raised on the east coast of Newfoundland. She began her career in aquaculture when she joined Mowi Canada East just under four years ago as a feed manager.  

Her experience of being a woman in the field has been a positive one, but she is realistic about what some women are concerned about and experience in the field.  

“Aquaculture, and probably farming in general, it tends to be a predominantly male-staffed industry, and I think, as a woman, it can be a bit intimidating,” she said. “It really just depends on the support you get from your company and your coworkers.”  

She goes on to say, “For sure you come across people that kind of treat you differently because you’re a woman… I’d say for me it hasn’t been overly challenging, but I can definitely see why a woman might be intimidated working in this environment.”  

Mercer emphasized that her experience at Mowi has been nothing but supportive. 

“I don’t feel like, as an employee of Mowi, that anybody thinks any less or expects less of the women compared to the men… It’s nice feeling like you’re an equal,” she said. 

When asked if she had any advice for women thinking of entering the industry she offered this, “Don’t underestimate yourself – believe in yourself.  Work hard.  If you want to be here and if you are passionate about this industry and this work, and sustainable food production, there’s no reason why you could not succeed in this industry.”  

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