By Ian Roberts
In the late 1990s, preacher Steve Atkinson removed gravel from his newly acquired property on Jameson Road in Nanaimo. The deep hole that remained figuratively and literally spawned an idea – fill it with water and fish.
Steve approached Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) Fisheries and Aquaculture faculty to buy some trout, and they introduced him to staff at Marine Harvest Canada (MHC).
And so began Steve’s career in aquaculture.
Dr. Andrew Forsythe, MHC’s Freshwater Director at that time, encouraged Steve, also a trained chef, to purchase farm-raised Chinook from the company for smoking. “My involvement in fish farming began with Marine Harvest when I started smoking and
selling salmon at the Tsawwassen, Swartz Bay and Nanaimo Ferry Terminals,” Steve recalls, “and it was a great success and expanded to markets in China.”
At the time, small amounts of trout, salmon and sturgeon were being successfully raised at his homestead and this led to another great idea. Steve, Andrew and Wayne Gorrie at PR Aqua Supplies Ltd. realized that the spring fed rural property would be a prime spot for a “model farm” – a place where nearby students could receive ‘hands on’ fish farming experience as well as providing a research and development facility for PR Aqua.
When Steve sold his smoked salmon stores in 2008, he worked to make the ‘model farm’ dream a reality and searched for private and government funding.
His efforts paid off.
This year, the federal government’s Aquaculture Innovation and Market Access Program announced its commitment to partially fund a 100 tonne recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) at the property. The 1.4 million dollar facility has also received public and private funding including support from the Province’s Agriculture Innovation Fund, the National Research Council, the Interprovincial Partnership for Sustainable Freshwater Aquaculture Development, PR Aqua, VIU and MHC.
Construction is now underway and “Taste of BC” will produce 2 kilogram steelhead trout for local markets starting in 2013.
Steve is very thankful for the help he’s received from Marine Harvest. “Without the help of people like Dr. Forsythe, Dave Ashcroft and Philip Redmond, I wouldn’t have been able to make the transition to aquaculture,’ Steve says and adds, smiling, “these people have also become friends.”
“I’m a chef by trade, preacher by profession and fish farmer by default,” Steve says with a laugh.