Aquaculture Ambassador: R.J. Taylor

“We need to find new ways to show Canadians just how kick-ass and caring we are as an industry.” – Raymond J. Taylor, co‐owner, Cedar Crest Trout Farms.

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  R.J.Taylor, who is also the inaugural chair for the Council of Emerging Leaders in Aquaculture.

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

“My sister Arlen and I own Cedar Crest Trout Farms, a second-generation family business that operates five land-based rainbow trout hatcheries in Ontario. We have an amazing team that grows more than five million trout fingerlings a year for the net-pen farms in Georgian Bay.

I’m also the managing director for the Ontario Aquaculture Association, which is an industry-led group that advocates on behalf of seafood farmers in central Canada. We represent over 95% of the Ontario sector — last year, our members harvested over 100 plus million meals (or 8,000 tonnes) of fresh, local and healthy trout, shrimp, tilapia and barramundi.

When I’m not on the farms or out speaking about aquaculture, I have a slight addiction for travelling Canada. I’m trying to get absolutely everywhere in this vast, multifarious country of ours — last fall I drove up to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean, and this year I’m trying to get to northern Labrador and Haida Gwaii.”

What drew you to the aquaculture industry?

“Ha, that question is probably best directed at my dad. He was one of the early pioneers of freshwater aquaculture in Canada, and this year marks his 50th in the industry. He started as a fish feed rep, and then ran a few different hatcheries before starting our first site in 1995.

Being raised on a trout farm meant that I’ve been waist-deep in fish for as long as I can remember, sometimes in not-so-watertight hip waders. When I left home at 17, I swore to myself I wouldn’t be a fish farmer. But after 10 years working in science communication and education for Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, the University of Toronto, and Dyson, I couldn’t stay away.

What drew me back is probably what drew my dad so many years ago, it’s an incredibly young and progressive sector, every day is a new challenge or problem to solve, and it’s an industry that’s feeding the future sustainably for years to come.”

What’s your average day in aquaculture like?

“I like to say that every day at Cedar Crest starts the same but ends very differently. Each morning we tackle the feeding and cleaning chores as a team, but then who knows, It could be making babies in the spawning trailer, loading trucks headed for Manitoulin Island, or building something entirely new. We recently bought our fifth farm, got certified by the Best Aquaculture Practices program, and adapted a new production planning software, so those have been taking a lot of focus this fall. I spend about half my time on the farm, and half working on industry-wide initiatives. That means that after chores, I often swap my rubber boots for dress shoes and go speak with government officials, non-profits, and schools about fish farming. And now I get to work with a very energetic group of rising stars on Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance’s (CAIA) Council of Emerging Leaders in Aquaculture (CELA).

How do you plan to change the current narrative about aquaculture, in particular salmon farming in Canada, from conflict to conversations about sustainability?

“Up until recently, fish farmers in Canada tried to keep a low profile. If you asked a farm owner what successful public relations is, they’d probably tell you it means that your neighbours didn’t know you existed. This was largely because of fear that there would be community out-lash, a negative headline, or even a government crackdown if people knew a fish farm was in their backyard. However, in the last few years my sister Arlen and I have gone against the grain and been very vocal about aquaculture. We speak at events, post a lot to social media, invite the public to our farms, talk to journalists, and we even sell fish from the back of a pick-up truck in nearby towns. What we’ve discovered is surprising: most people are entirely okay with fish farming. In fact, many support it and are excited about it. If you talk to retailers about how fast farmed seafood flies off their shelves, they’d agree too. Our industry is the fastest growing agri-food sector because more and more people want farmed fish.

Yet when I speak with government folk — federally, provincially, elected and non-elected — they tell me that there is a social licence issue. Time and time again, I’m told there is major opposition to fish farming, especially those in floating net-pens. But to be honest, I don’t believe it.

I believe two things. First, that we do have opposition, but it’s nowhere as widespread as our industry and our government champions believe. Second, that our fairly insignificant opposition is better at telling stories than we are.

Aquaculture in Canada has an excellent story to tell, but we just have to get better at telling it. We have decades of science, world-trust environmental certifications, and we attract some of the most ingenious and fun young people into the sector. We need to find new ways to show Canadians just how kick-ass and caring we are as an industry. Our focus on the CELA is developing those stories and sharing them — through videos, competitions, public speaking, and mentorship.”

What is the single biggest project you are working on now?

“That’s a hard one for me to answer because the CELA is just getting started. The entire Council met for the first time at CAIA’s annual conference in November. We shook a lot of hands and absorbed all the timely panels and presentations before breaking off for our own brainstorming. We are just in the process of putting together project proposals and pitching them to our companies, to CAIA, and to external funders.

What I can share is that when we first got together, I asked everybody to share the one or two things they think the Council could tackle in the year. Building public confidence in aquaculture was a big one, and groups coming together around creating a video series that talks to young professionals on the farm, as well as a video contest looking at sustainability initiatives. Other groups are coming together around a mentorship program for young people in the sector.

I look forward to sharing more with SeaWestNews on the exciting projects we’ll tackle as a group.”


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