“After taking a few courses on aquaculture and integrated farming, I started to really grasp the potential of a meaningful and enjoyable career in the aquaculture sector,” Wesley Chase, Council of Emerging Leaders in Aquaculture.
By Samantha McLeod
Aquaculture in Canada today generates $5.16 billion in economic activity and employs over 25,000 people. As one of the fastest growing food sectors in the world, the industry in Canada has a younger-than-average domestic workforce with two-thirds of all employees under the age of 35. Our new series, Aquaculture Ambassador, is about 14 Canadians who have come together to showcase the growing presence of young people in the sustainable future of farming the oceans. In this segment, we talk to Wesley Chase, Agriculture Assistant, Alma Aquaculture Research Station ‐ University of Guelph.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in rural southern Ontario, about an hour and a half outside Toronto. While I didn’t grow up on a farm, I was surrounded by agriculture, and many of my earliest work experience was agriculture related, haying, feeding animals, mucking stalls, picking stones etc. Being as I have always had a passion for fishing and the outdoors in general, I did my undergrad at the University of Guelph in Marine and Freshwater Biology.
What drew you to aquaculture?
I kind of stumbled into aquaculture, to be honest. My goal when applying to the University of Guelph was to become a Conservation Officer with the MNRF. After taking a few courses on aquaculture and integrated farming, I started to really grasp the potential of a meaningful and enjoyable career in the aquaculture sector. I then began volunteering at the Alma Aquaculture Research Station (AARS), where I truly fell in love with fish husbandry.
What’s your average day in aquaculture like?
One of the things I love about the AARS is that I rarely have an average day. Some days or weeks are more husbandry focused, weigh sampling, grading, spawning etc. While others are much more research focused, data collections, working through spreadsheets, discussing research options with faculty members. This combined with the variety of infrastructure we have on site means I rarely have the same day twice in a row, and I am always being challenged.
How do you plan to change the current narrative about aquaculture, in particular salmon farming in Canada, from conflict to conversations about sustainability?
I think it is imperative that we get youth as involved as possible, right down to the primary level. If we can get youth to buy-in to aquaculture as the best way to produce high-quality seafood protein, this message will quickly find its way into the household. We need to make the idea of fish husbandry as normalized as any other form of animal husbandry.
Another strategy, one we have employed at the AARS, is the use of ‘myth-busting’ tours. Where we take a group of community or industry influencers and lead them on a tour that specifically targets many of the misconceptions around our industry. We have found that this helps people to look at controversial issues objectively instead of emotionally.
What is the single biggest project you are working on now?
While I am involved to a certain capacity in all of the projects going on here at the AARS, there are a few that I am particularly invested in. One is the development of a rainbow trout breeding program specific to the needs of the Ontario industry. Another is working to expand our Arctic char production capacity here at Alma, and hopefully to develop a methodology that can be easily replicated by other growers here in Ontario.
The work I am most invested in, however, is our work with species novel to the Ontario industry. Currently I am working on growing whitefish fingerlings at commercial densities in RAS. These whitefish are then heading to a cage site near Manitoulin Island for grow out. I personally believe there is a great deal of potential for whitefish as a cultured species here in Ontario and am very excited to be involved in the early research.