It could be said that Victoria-born and North Island bred Laura Guzda, Manager of Freshwater Farms hatchery in Duncan, Vancouver Island, has aquaculture as part of her roots.
By Gina Forsyth
Laura Guzda (pictured) grew up in Port McNeill. After graduating school, she landed a good job at the Village Office as a Confidential Secretary.
“I stayed there for years but my heart was always longing for an outdoor job,” Laura says.
In the 1980s Laura’s father decided on a career change. He wanted to follow his heart to do something he was truly passionate about – growing fish. He applied for, and received the first aquaculture licenses for rearing fish in Keough and Georgie Lakes.
Keough is south of Port McNeill and Georgie Lake is northwest of Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
Laura’s sister left her log scaling job to partner with their dad on a fulltime basis. The entire family worked hard to construct the floating wooden structures to grow the fish.
“Back then it was a nerve-wracking time not knowing if the company was going to make it or not,” recalls Laura.
In 1993, following the death of Laura’s mom, her father no longer wanted to work in aquaculture. That’s when she decided to pursue fish farming as a career.
Laura packed up her kids and headed for Georgie Lake. They didn’t have any electricity at the time so she taught the children by correspondence, under propane lights.
“That wasn’t much fun. It was pretty exciting when we got the generator up and running. We ran around flicking light switches on and off, excited each time one worked,” laughs Laura.
When it came to the work it was actually quite different then compared to today, Laura related,
“We had very little equipment to help us do our jobs. No forklifts to move feed, that was all done by wheelbarrow. No fish pumps to help transport fish, they were netted into garbage cans, run down the system, up a flight of stairs and then passed up to the guys on the transport truck.”
Laura’s next challenge was to take on the development of the salmon hatchery at Victoria Lake, east of Port Alice.
“I loved it so much,” Laura enthuses. “It was one of the joys of my life,”.
Laura was involved right from the beginning, developing the site, securing contractors to complete all the buildings that she had designed and organizing everything else in between. The facility received its first fish in 2006 and “they grew like crazy”.
The site was shut down in 2009 due to a naturally occurring fungus that proved uncontrollable.
It was summer of that same year that Freshwater Farms was losing its manager due to retirement and Laura stepped in.
“It was a steep learning curve but I’ve always loved a challenge,” she says.
Laura oversees the facility and its eight employees.
“I really like Freshwater Farms because we do everything here; create families, incubate eggs, grow out the different year classes and spawn full grown brood four years later,” explains Laura.
“It’s exciting to be working at this level and being a part of the genetic program. It tests your organizational skills constantly,” chuckles Laura.
Outside of work, Laura and her husband live on five acres in Duncan. They have a large garden they tend to during the summer months and they especially enjoy the company of their nine-year-old grandson whenever possible.
For Laura Guzda, growing food for work, and feeding family and friends, are things she will always treasure doing.
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