“There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you put a wild salmon back into its native river,” – Betty House, 2021 recipient of the Atlantic Canada Aquaculture Award.
Betty House, a veteran science & research coordinator for the Atlantic salmon farming sector knows that a sustainably managed wild and farmed fishery can make Canada’s seafood sector the envy of the world. Using technology developed by the aquaculture industry, her recent work with a range of partners, has resulted in a remarkable return of wild salmon in Fundy National Park rivers, the highest numbers in three decades. “There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you put a wild salmon back into its native river,” says House, a passionate champion of aquaculture, of the science-based research behind it and the people who work in it. Described as ‘the glue’ that brings people and projects together, House is this year’s recipient of the Atlantic Canada Aquaculture Award , which recognised her three-decade career as a pioneer of the industry. SeaWestNews caught up with House for this Q&A.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Aquaculture wasn’t a term that I had even heard until after graduating with my Bachelor of Science at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, in 1990. I saw a brochure from the Fisheries and Marine Institute offering a graduate diploma program in aquaculture and I was immediately interested. Salmon farming was in its early days when I started my career on salmonid farms as an aquaculturist. I consider myself a jack of all trades, master of none, as the phrase goes. I have worked a bit with cod, lobster, haddock, eels and salmonid species as part of R&D projects, worked on salmonid marine farms, taught a little, worked in fish health and with certification programs, before joining the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association as Research and Development Coordinator in 2009. Since then, my work has been focused on being a technical support for members and assisting with whatever their needs are at the moment, and working with regulators, researchers and stakeholders in any way required to support the salmon farming industry and its sustainable growth.
Q: What is the most interesting experience you’ve had in your aquaculture career?
That’s a hard question to answer. I have been fortunate to visit Norway many times along with Chile, Scotland and Ireland to see their industries and talk with their farmers and researchers which has always been a great learning experience. Working with different species over the years have all been interesting experiences, especially the American eel.
Q: What is a typical day like in your current role?
Not sure there is a “typical day” in the fish farming sector, like many others, so my job is to roll with the punches. This could mean setting up meetings with members to discuss new research results, applying for funding for a project, giving advice on an idea for a field trial, or participating in an international mission for knowledge transfer. I meet often with federal scientists or provincial regulators as I often represent the industry on many committees. I could be writing a report one day and doing an educational farm tour with the public the next day. Keeping up on all the new research, technology that is ongoing in the global industry is important and I use that information to help organize our annual Aquaculture Research, Science and Technology Forum agenda each year.
Q: What innovation, in your opinion, has the most potential to improve Canada’s aquaculture industry?
Going forward, I guess that may be all the new AI systems being developed to help us monitor our fish and the marine environment in real time. There are so many different marine ecosystems and benthic environments in which the industry operates across Canada. It will take some time to validate those AI systems in the various farming regions, but they do look promising.
Q: As a woman in aquaculture, can you tell me what advice you would give women looking for careers in this industry.
There are a lot more women in the industry here which is great to see, especially working as farm managers and higher-level management. I would suggest learning a little about all aspects and then pick what you love, whether it’s working in the outdoors, on the water, go for it! Automation has levelled the playing field in many areas of the work.
Q: Is there a skills shortage in the aquaculture industry?
Like many other sectors, the salmon farming industry is facing a labour shortage. Our sector needs people of all skill sets from processing to marine farm technicians to land-based technicians and all the maintenance / vessel operators.
Q: There is a lot of momentum for a Federal Aquaculture Act. What is your view on that?
I think that we have lost that momentum but a federal act will be a very important component for industry growth across all aquaculture sectors within Canada. Provinces are the lead regulatory agencies in Atlantic Canada and that will continue. All of the Atlantic provinces have updated their aquaculture legislation or are in the process of doing so. In June, the Atlantic Aquaculture Ministers signed a Memorandum of Understanding supporting the sustainable growth of the industry in the region.
Q: Can farmed salmon and wild salmon co-exist?
Yes! The big question is: why aren’t wild salmon populations not surviving in the marine environment? There has to be a lot more work done to figure out that component. The decline in the population started decades before salmon farming and any significant production of farmed salmon began. The use of aquaculture technology to address marine mortality, as part of our Fundy Salmon Recovery project, is now resulting in wild salmon that we have released returning multiple years to spawn so they are surviving in the inner Bay of Fundy.
Q: What is the biggest threat to aquaculture in Canada?
I would say the continual use of misinformation about the industry. Salmon farming is a science-based sector that is continually innovating and managed under more than 70 regulatory pieces. Aquaculture is crucial to sustainably managing our oceans, conserving wild salmon and feeding the planet. People need to really get to know the industry and understand the facts, not the hype.
(Facebook image of Betty House at a salmon recovery project)