“It is essential that we realize, that ultimately, we have a common goal. I became interested in aquaculture because I wanted to “save the environment” so to speak, which I imagine is the equal goal of most of those who do not support aquaculture,” Angelique Pichette, 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, Angelique Pichette, MSc. Lead Hand, Gold River Hatchery Grieg Seafood BC Ltd.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Growing up in Northern Ontario I quickly developed an appreciation for nature. At a very early age I knew I wanted to spend my life working with animals. After graduating high school, I decided to study Marine and Freshwater Biology at the University of Guelph. During my time there, I took electives on Aquaculture and Fisheries in order to gain a more thorough understanding of what was actually happening in our oceans and how this resource was being managed. I became particularly interested in aquaculture and went on to pursue my MSc. in Aquaculture at James Cook University where I studied the nutritional requirements of red claw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus). Since then I have had the opportunity to work at a grow-out facility for Rainbow trout in Saskatchewan. I am currently employed with Grieg Seafood as the Lead Hand at the Gold River Hatchery.
What drew you to aquaculture?
The more I studied and learned about the ocean and the various industries that directly and indirectly affect the ocean, I became convinced that we were exhausting most of the resources and ecosystems in the ocean. Between climate change, pollution, human activity, increased seafood demand, habitat destruction, and everything in between, wild fish stocks are in decline with, in my opinion at the time, no hope. I then began to learn about aquaculture and how this industry strives to be sustainable, ethical, innovative and alleviate pressure on wild fish stocks. Aquaculture is a great solution to many of the problems our oceans face, and being a relatively new industry in North America, has a great potential for growth and development and policies that actively involves issues that are important to us today, for examples issues like sustainability, environmental stewardship, animal ethics, etc.
What’s your average day in aquaculture like?
It is hard to describe an average day at the hatchery. It is a very dynamic workplace and our work varies from day to day. Fish husbandry is our number one priority so my colleagues and I strive to ensure that the habitats meet the ideal conditions for health and growth of the fish. This means we are testing water quality daily and making adjustments to the system when needed. We also verify the feed response several times a day to ensure that we are not under or overfeeding the fish. We grade fish several times in their life cycle to ensure that fish are in habitats with other similar sized fish. This allows us to minimize competition and development of social hierarchies. We spend a lot of time on staff development and improving hatchery procedures and policies. Weekly standard operating procedure reviews are done to ensure we are making changes that are reflective of new technology and new developments in aquaculture. We review several programs that we use with different staff on a weekly basis to ensure that everyone is familiar with all the biological components involved in feeding fish. This is very important due to the fact that fish are ectotherms and their biology and metabolism are greatly affected by the conditions of the habitat. Knowing how these variables interact is an integral part of feed fish effectively and avoiding stress to the animal. Most importantly, the average day at the hatchery, while it can be stressful at times, is fun. We have an outstanding team with an incredible amount of experience and knowledge giving us a fantastic team dynamic.
How do you plan to change the current narrative about aquaculture, in particular salmon farming in Canada, from conflict to conversations about sustainability?
It is essential that we realize, that ultimately, we have a common goal. I became interested in aquaculture because I wanted to “save the environment” so to speak, which I imagine is the equal goal of most of those who do not support aquaculture. Once we realize that we are fighting for the same cause I think it gives us more opportunity to have these discussions about aquaculture and how we can improve the industry so that we are meeting this goal together. It is also imperative that companies strive to be open and transparent with the public. A lot of the things I hear or read that are negative about aquaculture are often based on misconceptions of the industry. Getting the public out to hatcheries, farms etc. so they can see how a farm operates would be a great way to start. Letting people experience and observe what we are doing on a daily basis will help gain public trust and enable us to start changing the existing narrative.
What is the single biggest project you are working on now?
At Grieg, we are currently building a new land based recirculating aquaculture system (RAS). This will enable us to more effectively produce smolts as we will be using new technology and equipment to run the new RAS unit.