‘Overfishing and population growth are major threats to the health of the oceans and my personal opinion is that aquaculture is part of the solution’ – Emily Warren, 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 Emily Warren, M.Sc. Student, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am currently in the second year of my M.Sc. at the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island, BC. I was born and raised in Toronto, and moved to Prince Edward Island to attend the University of Prince Edward Island where I completed my B.Sc. in Biology. Living in PEI is where I first discovered my passion for marine biology and aquaculture and decided to pursue it further. I then moved to Nanaimo to complete a Post-Degree Diploma in Fisheries and Aquaculture at Vancouver Island University. During this time, I was first introduced to sea urchin aquaculture and completed an Honour’s project examining sea urchin gonad enhancement in a sea-based system. This project led me to my current M.Sc. research examining gonad enhancement and faecal production in green and red sea urchins.
What drew you to aquaculture?
I found the industry to be fascinating in the sense that each species and each environment was so unique in the challenges and methods that aquaculture had to face. Overfishing and population growth are major threats to the health of the oceans and my personal opinion is that aquaculture is part of the solution to help relieve the pressure off wild fish stocks as well as supply the growing demand for protein.
What’s your average day in aquaculture like?
For the next year or so I will be conducting my M.Sc. research project. Therefore, my average day is measuring water quality (temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and flow rate) in the tanks as well as feeding the urchins, collecting any uneaten feed and faeces, and sampling gonad quality.
How do you plan to change the current narrative about aquaculture, in particular salmon farming in Canada, from conflict to conversations about sustainability?
I would like to get more narratives going about other aquaculture species too, such as shellfish and other invertebrates like sea urchins, and how farming these species can benefit the environment.
Sea urchins are ecologically-important keystone species which can drastically alter marine communities due to their consumption of kelp forests, creating areas termed “urchin barrens”. Large populations of sea urchins will remain in these urchin barrens for long periods of time, and the fishery will not remove them due to the often-poor gonad quality and yield. Therefore, sea urchin aquaculture aims to remove these sea urchins from the barrens for roe enhancement (12-weeks), and therefore allows the kelp forests to regrow.
What is the single biggest project you are working on right now?
Currently I am conducting my M.Sc. research project which will assess the effect of diet and temperature on gonad yield and quality in the green (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) and red (S. franciscanus) sea urchins, which are new species for the aquaculture industry in British Columbia. As the aquaculture industry continues to grow worldwide, there is increasing concern about the impact it may have on the environment and ensuring its ecological sustainability. The same is true for ocean-based, sea urchin farming. Surprisingly, however, there has been little published research examining this aspect in any country or on any sea urchin species. Sea urchin roe enhancement, where low-gonad-yield individuals are removed from urchin barrens and fed a prepared diet which can bulk up their gonads to market size in 10–12 weeks, is an increasing area of research and commercial interest. There are three new feeds developed by Urchinomics (a Norwegian-based urchin farming company) that have worked reasonably well on Japanese urchin species, but these need to be tested on local BC urchins to evaluate their efficacy. A waste deposition model will also be used to assess, and therefore mitigate, for any potential environmental impact commercial-scale urchin culture would have.