Aquaculture has been practiced in Manitoba since the late 1960s. It began with experimental stocking and fish growth studies in “pothole” lakes in the Erickson area in southwestern Manitoba. These pothole stockings were conducted by the DFO Canada Freshwater Institute and the Manitoba Government.
Many of these lakes were considered to have the potential to be productive waters for raising fish and experimental stocking and monitoring was undertaken to help determine fish performance. Rainbow trout quickly became the species of choice due to their rapid rate of growth and their general hardiness. Rainbow trout continue to be the primary species stocked into lakes and dugouts in Manitoba.
Manitoba fish farming activities have primarily taken the form of hobby farming, involving the stocking of fingerling sized young fish into farm dugouts or ponds on private lands, or into small lakes on Crown lands, primarily for recreational purposes. The stock is generally allowed to grow by foraging on available food sources within the pond. This practice is known as Extensive Aquaculture. Depending on the owner preference, pond environment and fish growth desires the food source is sometimes supplemented by the feeding of prepared commercial fish food.
A good source of information on this type of activity is a booklet “Trout Farming in Manitoba”, available from the Fisheries Branch of the Manitoba Department of Water Stewardship.
The Manitoba commercial aquaculture sector is presently characterized by a few owner-operator ventures, some of which are full-time endeavors. The principal species being grown are Rainbow Trout and Arctic Char. However, interest in commercial aquaculture as a means of agriculture diversification or as an alternative crop is increasing. New efforts and ventures involving land based closed containment aquaculture are developing.
The province does have considerable potential to further develop the freshwater aquaculture sector. Some of the attributes are; availability of land, excellent quantities of high quality ground water, an inherent culture to develop and support farming, an active research support community, reasonable electricity and energy prices and proximity to major Canadian and US markets. Based on overall demand for sustainable aquaculture products, the relative abundance of natural resources and the key geographical location of the province, there is good reason to believe that the commercial fish farming sector will expand within the near term.
Recently we have seen considerable interest developing in the potential of building aquaponics – aquaculture farms in remote communities. Such operations can supply fresh food year-round right on location, thus making it more readily available, while also greatly reducing the time and costs required to transport fresh produce into those areas.