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Aquaculture Overview

Aquaculture -- the raising of fish and fish feed -- has been practiced in various forms in Western Canada for more than half a century. Prior to the 1970's the world protein shortage and raising prices for fish products created widespread interest in the industry, particularly among farmers.

In 1973 the Product Development Section of Alberta Agriculture commissioned a consulting firm to study the potential for aquaculture in Alberta. The study concentrated on different systems of raising rainbow trout and their application to Alberta. It concluded that a net return of $1,266 (total annual cost of production) was needed to break even when loose rearing 10,000 trout. With a gross return of $6,000 breaking even was not a concern. Profit from cage rearing and raceway rearing 110,000 trout was 21% and 23% as a percentage of sales, respectively. In 1973 game fish farming was a profitable business. This study provides a great overview for 1973, but a recent study is needed.

This study is an effort to provide an overview for aquaculture in Alberta for the 1990's. It will attempt to illustrate that raising rainbow trout can be a profitable and viable business. Whenever someone spends capital for a particular project, he does so for a profitable return.

Alberta supports at least four government hatcheries located near Coldlake, Calgary, Coleman and Caroline. There are a number of game fish farms abroad Alberta. In 1995 there were approximately 50-60 commercial and 2500-3000 private (including production and recreational ponds) sites. Wayne Wood Fresh Fish (Edmonton) and other slaughter plants near Lac La Biche, Calling Lake and Slave Lake process fish. Currently fish are processed at $1.10/kg ($0.50/lb.).


Markets for freshwater fish for human consumption are well established in both Canada and the United States. The demand for fish will continue as the world's fishery industry continues to deplete the ocean's supply. In 1972 Canadian fish farmers sold nearly 486.4 thousand kg (1.07 million pounds) of fish. About 72.2% of Canadian sold fish was sold for human consumption and that nearly 11% of this was produced in Alberta's 'pot hole' lakes. In the United States per capita consumption of fish has substantially increased from about 5 Kg (11 pounds) in 1968 to 7Kg (15.4 pounds) in 1986. While in Canada, the amount of food dollars spent by a household on fish, increased by 18% from 1974 to 1984. Canada's fish consumption reached 4.5 kg/year/capita (10-11pounds) in 1976 and 2.25 kg (5 pounds) on the prairies. One Western Canadian wholesaler of freshwater fish located here in Alberta had experienced a 260% increase in business since opening in 1987. Their annual sales nearly reached $1 million in 1990. This clearly indicates the remarkable growth in the freshwater fish industry in our prairie province, Alberta.

In 1972 western producers obtained $2.75/Kg ($1.25/pound) for whole dressed (gutted and cleaned) trout). In 1990, prices for whole dressed trout were $4.50/Kg ($2.00/pound) sold to large distributors, while the prairie market experienced high demand for pansize trout pricing $5.00/Kg ($2.25/pound) to the retail market. Billingsgate Fish Company (Edmonton) Ltd. (1995) sell trout for nearly $11.00/kg ($5.00/pound).


Trout can be marketed in four different ways:

Deciding which will be the best for your particular operation may be determined by such factors as:

Brokering fingerling trout is a profitable and relatively easy method of entering the rainbow trout rearing business. A broker essentially purchases fingerlings to stock local ponds and tanks. Purchasing trout by the 10,000s reduces the price per fish enabling the broker to buy cheap trout. He now has the ability to add a price mark up to include transportation, facilities and profit, and resell the fingerlings to individuals only requiring a few hundred trout.

An easy way to market tank or pond raised trout is selling market size trout to a wholesaler. This wholesaler may distribute the trout to a major chain of stores or to individual stores. Market size trout are sold to wholesalers where ever they set up a gathering point. Large volumes of trout can be transported to these single gathering points, trout producers do not need to be located near a major population base.

Selling to local or specialized markets requires greater marketing skills; however, the rewards pay off over the long run. Dealer licenses must be obtained from the provincial government Fish and Wildlife division before trout can be legally sold to individuals, grocery stores and restaurants. Only fish of top quality with top quality flavor are accepted. Trout damaged during harvesting, having a muddy taste or of unusual size will have to be marketed by another means. Damaging the reputation of your operation and trout quality can be irreparable.

A U-fish operation is a business where people come to the pond and catch their own fish on a line and hook. This operation can be profitable alone, but is more so when combined with other home based businesses such as U-pick gardens, craft shops or campgrounds. A U-fish businesses can be run seasonally or year round. One can charge fishermen at a flat rate, by a certain price per centimeter (inch) or kilogram (pound) or by combining the two.

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This page was last updated on November 15, 2002