Nova Scotia Land-based Salmon Reaches Market


Salmon jumping at land-based facility near Advocate Harbour
Published January 29, 2015 - 6:51pm
Last Updated January 29, 2015 - 7:00pm

Paul Merlin’s commute from his home in the Wentworth Valley to his office outside Advocate Harbour isn’t the only unique thing about him.

Merlin also owns what he believes to be the only land-based, closed-container facility in the world raising Arctic char, halibut and salmon.

His company, Canaqua Seafoods, sits on a large oceanfront property where 26 indoor tanks, each larger than a home swimming pool, can hold 250 metric tonnes of fish. A planned expansion could see the facility increase in size tenfold.

Merlin, a bioscience technologist by training, who began his career living in a tent and researching wolves, didn’t build here for the view or the limitless supply of driftwood of all sizes, but for the composition of the soil in which he dug large wells.

“The sea water wells are only 35 feet deep for pumping purposes. We go down to 70 feet and we’ll hit clay. You go 40 feet through the clay and you get fresh water. It’s really unique, I don’t know any place in North America like it, at least on this seaboard,” he said, pointing to five wells that will each produce 1,200 gallons of water per minute.

“We have this geothermal effect in the wells that gives us a niche temperature almost year-round for the fish to feed and grow.”

Today, there are almost 100,000 fish in the tanks, roughly evenly divided among salmon, Arctic char and halibut (“The couch potato of the fish world,” Merlin calls halibut, and when you look in the halibut tanks, you can see them reclining on the bottom). But in the future, salmon will be number one.

Organic salmon. With fervent opposition to open-sea cages, that’s where the market is going, and that’s where the money is.

“The biggest reason I want to go organic is that it’s still expanding … tremendously in North America, and that’s my basic market. We asked what the premium was, and they said it could be as high as 30 per cent,” said Merlin, whose company has begun the transition to being certified organic. “If I’m going to present my product to the American market, the people that want to buy it the most are the people that want it land-based in closed containers.”

Canaqua has just received the Canadian organic standards, and has overcome one major obstacle — the sourcing of organic feed — by finding a supplier on the West Coast. It hopes to send certified organic salmon to the marketplace within 12 to 16 months, and is working with Global Trust of Ireland, which certifies facilities.

“Of course, they make money doing it, but we trust them as a certifier because they’ve got a really good name,” Merlin said.

The first harvest of Canaqua’s land-raised salmon was to be made Thursday. The fish were gutted on site, then trucked on ice to the Delta Halifax hotel, where it will be served to 250 people at a Friday culinary event called Sip ’n Shuck. In April, it will be featured at an Atlantic Salmon Federation dinner for 400.

“The salmon is a little more intense (than char), but it’s got a lovely flavour, high in omega-3,” said Merlin.

Last year, a couple of protesters showed up outside the hotel for Sip ’n Shuck, and handed out leaflets about open-sea salmon pens, but Merlin’s salmon would seem to be protester-proof.

Delta chef Andy Camm is cooking with Canaqua salmon for the first time, and is happy with the way it’s raised.

“I like that and I’ve heard that they’re applying to be certified organic. It’s very important, if the customer finds it important I should find it important,” Camm said.

E-Mail: bspurr@herald.ca
Twitter: @CH_BillSpurr