Shedding Light on The Situation: Examining the Use of Lighting in Salmon Fisheries

Shedding Light on The Situation: Examining the Use of Lighting in Salmon Fisheries

Light is much like the Force, “Its energy surrounds us, binds us.”, and although most life on our planet requires its presence to survive, light is not a topic the average person spends a great deal of time thinking about (Kershner, 1980). Light impacts all creatures on our planet, defining how they perceive the world around them, shaping how life functions and triggering evolutionary processes. Because of the significance light has on all life, understanding its effects on the life cycles, patterns and development of salmon is essential for salmon fisheries to be able to create environments that produce healthy salmon of the highest quality, reduce the risks associated with early maturation of salmon stocks and improve their overall profits.

Research into the effects of light on fish is nothing new, in fact light has been long used as a tool in fishing, historically being purposed to lure fish to it so they could be captured more easily. Over many years this research discovered that, “(a)tlantic salmon is very sensitive to light, both for smoltification during the freshwater stage and during the on-growing stage in sea water.”. Further studies showed that the use of high intensity artificial lighting in salmon pens can be used “to suppress early maturation during the on-growing stage”, leading many salmon fisheries to implement artificial lighting in their salmon pens (Orrego, 2018.). The impacts of light on salmon development is due to the fact that, much like human beings, fish require a hormone called melatonin to properly sync their biological rhythms, allowing them to determine night from day, the current season and time of day. This process takes place in the pineal gland of fish which works as a mini computer, that absorbs the light signals taken in by the fish and translates them to “rhythmic hormonal signals” that flow through the blood stream providing information that is vital to many species as it often dictates when they rest, mate, hunt, or perform other functions needed for their health and survival (Bruning, 2016). Most melatonin production occurs at night signalling the change in the time of day to the salmon, and triggering a change in their swimming behaviours as their feeding, mating and migration are mainly done during the night where the dark waters can help conceal salmon from predators. This light dependant biological clock that we share with fish is what signals their bodies to develop, grow and reach sexual maturity and allows for the effects of artificial lighting to trick these processes to promote growth while delaying maturity in the salmon. Knowing that the biological process of salmon can be altered using light has promoted further studies into exactly how light impacts salmon stocks, to try and achieve the perfect lighting formula.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada examined two southwestern New Brunswick salmon fishery sites in 2001, and observed that “more than 30% of the fish in some sea cages…” matured earlier than their wild counterparts with speculation that this is due to a lack of light exposure within the pens (cages) (Aquaculture Science Branch, 2012). This early maturation, called ‘grilsing’, results in the quality of the salmon dropping significantly increasing the risk of the grilsing salmon developing health issues, contracting diseases and impacting their market price, if they make it to market at all. These complications result in a domino effect triggered by the removal of stock that is impacted by any disease or health issues, causing additional stress to the healthy salmon in the pen, which negatively impacts their health, perpetuating an infuriating cycle that can be difficult to remedy and can greatly impact the finances of the fishery.

In the 2012 report on the 2001 study from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, analyzed the effects of photomanipulation on salmon in the Bay of Fundy within the two sites in southwestern New Brunswick. This study demonstrated that the time of year in which photomanipulation was implemented could be another major factor in discovering the perfect formula for lighting in salmon fisheries. Site #1 placed two artificial lights in six pens, lighting three on November 21, 2001 and the other three on February 15, 2002 and keeping them lit until May 31, 2002 and allowed for six other pens to be naturally lit as a control. Site #2 had two pens that were lit for 24 hours a day from October 31, 2001 to May 31,2002 and two that were naturally lit as control. Throughout this process the salmon in these pens were constantly filmed and samples were taken from each pen periodically to record their “Sex, round weight, fork length, girth, dressed weight, mean fat content, and gonad weight…” as well as their “length, weight, sex, maturity, and total muscle fat content (leanness)” to compare the lit pens to each other as well as the control pens (Aquaculture Science Branch, 2012).

Their findings showed that while the growth rate of salmon in the artificially lit pens was slower at first, it became “consistently greater than in the control cages”, with the pens that were lit in November producing salmon that were growing “at a rate of 0.32% body mass per day, compared to the control pens at 0.29% per day” [Figure 1]

(Aquaculture Science Branch, 2012). In addition, the rate that the salmon matured was considerably slower in the artificially lit environment than within the naturally lit control pens, with 22% and 17.5% of all the fish in control pens at Site #1 and Site #2 respectively, reaching maturity while the results of maturity in the artificially lit pens produced fascinating results. The pens that were initially lit in February had an average 11% maturity rate in its salmon, while the pens lit in October at Site #2 saw “…8.5% of the males and 1% of the females were mature.” [Figure 2],

but those pens initially lit in “…November showed consistently that only 2% of the males sexually matured and none of the females matured by May 2003.” [Figure 3],

with later experiments showing that lighting pens even as late as December will still yield similar results (Aquaculture Science Branch, 2012). Across all lit and unlit pens the total lipid (fat) levels showed “no detectable difference” in the samples taken in the initial harvest indicating that increasing the salmon’s exposure to constant light does not negatively impact its nutritional value, but does increase its size and delays sexual maturity at a considerable level, especially when this period of increased light exposure runs from late fall/early winter until the end of May. Discovering the optimal time of year and duration of constant light exposure for salmon stocks allows for fisheries to manage the costs associated with operating and maintain artificially lit pens. For each 70m sea pen the estimated “cost of purchasing, wiring, and operating the lights was less than $5,000 per cage (2002 dollars).”, when adjusted for inflation that equates to approximately $7,200 today. While that may not be a small amount of money, “the potential net financial gain from maintaining high production rates and flesh quality, (and) the result of delaying sexual maturity, would be greater than $100,000 per farm.” ($148,000 today) making implementing artificial lighting in salmon pens a worthwhile investment.

Another important piece in the quest to achieve the perfect lighting formula is the type of lighting being used in these processes. While other types of lighting have been used in the past, white metal halide and light emitting diode (LED) lights are now more commonly used in todays fisheries. These two lighting types both share benefits to salmon faming such as an “increased abundance of larval, juvenile and adult fish, and zooplankton in the vicinity of lights, when compared to unlit controls.”, but which is the best?!

White metal halide and LED lights both perform in the same capacity in their ability to draw in other marine life, which drew concerns as to what impact these lights have on the salmon’s diet and other marine animals. Hay et al. (2004) studied whether or not salmon stocks in British Columbia were ingesting wild organisms that had been attracted by artificial light, but found no evidence that proved this was occurring, while “DFO researchers have [recently] examined the stomach contents of harvested farmed salmon and found they were almost all empty. This shows that even when farmed salmon are at their hungriest, right before harvest, they still do not try and eat wild fish.” (Cermaq Canada, 2017). These facts partnered with regulation surrounding incidental catches, greatly lessen the impacts this lighting may have on other marine life.

In a 2012 trial organized by the company Leroy and conducted at Gildeskål  Research Station used the then, “newly designed LED lighting system from Philips” to try and determine what would set these two lighting types apart and determine which was better (Orrego, 2018). Starting the trial in December 2012, LED lighting was placed in two 90 m circumference pens, with two other 90 m pens being fitted with white metal halide lighting. Maintaining a very controlled environment and consistently monitoring the salon and their development, it was found that the LED lights had superior quality when compared to the salmon that had developed in the pens lit by white metal halide lights. Even more impressive was the dramatic difference between the sexual maturity rates between the pens lit by LED lights and those lit by white metal halide lights, with only an average of 0.13% of salmon in the LED pens reaching sexual maturity while an average of 2.58% of those salmon exposed to white metal halide reached their sexual maturity [Table 1].

In regards to the importance of this difference the manager of research and development of the Gildeskål Research Station, Johan Johansen said, “We have used lights during winter and so far assumed that the proportion matured fish is unavoidable background noise, but the solution from Philips close to eliminated all maturation. With good salmon prices the return on investment is very short” (Orrego, 2018). This near elimination of maturity by Philips LED lighting system translates into greatly reduced health risks, an overall higher quality of salmon and larger salmon at time of harvest with the salmon exposed to LED lights producing “3.4% better results for the LED lighting based on harvesting data.” [Table 2] (Orrego, 2018). Impressed with the results of this trial, the Director of Research at the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling, Professor Herve Migaud stated that “these results clearly showed an increased biological efficiency including suppression of maturation and enhancement of growth as compared to metal halogen…The use of these new systems commercially could contribute to boost productivity while improving fish welfare at sea.” validating LED lighting as the superior lighting choice in salmon fisheries (Orrego, 2018).

The scope of the impact and effect of light on salmon is still being fully examined in hope of creating that ‘perfect’ lighting formula. While the formula for lighting in salmon fisheries has yet to be ‘perfected’, “[t]his is not the end of the journey of improving lighting regimes for the benefit of Salmon farming. Recently the impact of light is further investigated in other applications such as environmental manipulation of salmon swimming depth in order to reduce sea lice infection in Atlantic salmon farms, biomass density control, (and) fish brain development.”, that will all work in tandem to someday achieve that perfect lighting formula for salmon fisheries (Orrego, 2018). But until that formula is discovered implementing the correct type of lighting at the right time of year can greatly improve the quality and health of salmon stocks through drastically reducing their maturity rates and increasing their growth, while reducing the overall production costs and increasing returns for fisheries.

*For more information on the impacts of lighting on salmon fisheries please visit the sources below*


Aquaculture Science Branch. (2012, May). The Effect of Photoperiod on Growth and Maturation of Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) in the Bay of Fundy. Retrieved from Fisheries and Oceans Canada:

Bruning, A. (2016, October 25). Disruptive light: when night becomes day for fish. Retrieved from IGB:

Cermaq Canada. (2017, December 12). Learning about underwater lights at our salmon farms. Retrieved from CERMAQ Canada:

Hay, D. E., Bravender, B. A., Gillis, D. J., & Black, E. A. (2004). An investigation into the consumption of wild food organisms, and the possible effects of lights on predation, by caged Atlantic salmon in British Columbia. Canadian Manuscript Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 2662: 35 p.

Kershner, I. (Director). (1980). Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back [Motion Picture].

Morais, P., Dias, E., Cerveira, I., Carlson, S. M., Johnson, M. C., & Sturrock, A. M. (2018, December 18). How Scientist Reveal The Secret Migrations of Fish. Retrieved from Frontiers for Young Minds:,being%20seen%20by%20hungry%20predators.

Orrego, R. (2018, February 24). Effect of LED lighting on growth and development of Atlantic Salmon. Retrieved from Fish Farming Expert:

Stewart, H. L., Nomura, M., Piercey, G. E., Dunham, A., & Lelliott, T. L. (2013). Ecological Effects of Blue LED Lights Used in Aquaculture. Retrieved from Fisheries and Oceans Canada:

The Fish Report. (2018, June 4). Some Like It Dark: Light Pollution And Salmon Survival. Retrieved from FishBio:,a%20lantern%20(USFWS%202015).&text=In%20a%20study%20of%20predation,2012).


Fishing for Knowledge:  A Brief History of Fisheries in the Canadian North Atlantic

Fishing for Knowledge: A Brief History of Fisheries in the Canadian North Atlantic

The act of fishing has existed long before recorded history and is practiced worldwide making seafood the major source of food for many cultures. Over hundreds of years, as humans evolved and created societies the need for this food source continued to grow and in response commercial fishing began, creating the vital fishing and aquaculture sectors we know today. While fishing is important the world over, this article will focus on the origins of European fisheries in the Canadian North Atlantic that were essential for the development of North America and western society.


The earliest fishermen came to Canada in the 1500’s and began fishing from spring to fall mostly off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, returning to their respective European countries with their bounty. “The plentiful, easy-to-catch cod was the most valuable commodity: dried or salted, it could be transported long distances and would keep for several months.”, but also fished for other fish species and whales, resulting in the latter’s population being heavily impacted in a relatively short amount of time (Gough & James-abra, 2015). Soon fishing became vital for the growth of these European powers and with what appeared to be endless resources competition between the French and English rose creating two different approaches to the fishing industry.

English fisheries focused on their “semi-permanent fishing stations in protected harbours on Newfoundland’s southeast coast.” With the first captain to reach a harbour governing that harbour (Gough & James-abra, 2015). Most of the fishing was done close to the shore in small boats that would unload their catch onto a “stage” (wharf) to be cleaned and salted, then left to dry on tables that encourages circulation of air called “flakes”, making the easily transportable dried cod that was very popular. Fishermen from New England also came to Nova Scotia in the 18th century to fish the shores and the Bay of Fundy for not only the popular cod but also the Atlantic salmon.  As this fishing industry grew and news of the bounty the new world offered, more and more people came to fish in Canada, resulting in many of the coastal communities that exist today.

Taking a ‘green fishery’ approach to fishing, the French had ports that were scattered along the shores of eastern Canada, as well as on many banks including the Grand Banks. Having more access to salt than the English, and choosing to process the catches directly aboard their ships allowed for the French to be quicker than the English in their fishing methods, although the product did not last as long as the English’s product. This accelerated process allowed for the French ships to return to their fishing stations in Canada more than once in a year. Due to conflicts between the English and French, the French method of fishing was not as widely used as the English approach moving forward.

Schooners, such as the Bluenose built in Lunenburg, Nova scotia, were being built along the shores of the Western Atlantic that allowed for the fishing of halibut, haddock, and mackerel in addition to cod. Schooners also began transporting small boats known as ‘dories’ that allowed fishermen to fish closer to shore where the larger schooner could not reach and using longline fishing techniques developed by the French that allowed for multiple hooks to be in the water at once, attached to an anchored main line, increasing their yields. Another French innovation, the purse seine (net) allowed for an easier catch of herring and mackerel by using nets in the water to catch fish near the surface. “The fishermen tightened a purse line at the bottom of the net to enclose the fish in what looked like a floating bowl.” Allowing for a drastic increase in the amounts of these fish caught (Gough & James-abra, 2015). Also during the 16th century a large seal fishery “which became important in Newfoundland’s growth.” began to develop due to the Conception Bay schooners there and the higher concentration of seal in that area (Gough & James-abra, 2015).


By 1800 the seal industry in Newfoundland was mostly operated by Newfoundlanders rather than seasonal fishermen from Europe and allowed for Newfoundland to amass a fleet of “about 18,000 small boats and 1,200 larger vessels.”, aiding in its economic growth (History of Fishing in Canada 2020).

In 1857 the first Superintendent of Fisheries in what was then Lower Canada, now known as Quebec, created “the first detailed records of planned aquaculture activity in Canada…” (Government of Canada, 2015). This came after they observed and studied brook trout and Atlantic salmon eggs hatching in an incubated and controlled setting, and by 1865 Prince Edward Island began producing oysters. Throughout this century the fleets of Maritime and Newfoundland ships grew quite large and “[a]t Canada’s Confederation in 1867, the federal government was given authority over the fisheries, and set up the Department of Marine and Fisheries.”, which by this time included hundred of lobster canneries, and a crucial sardine-canning industry (Gough & James-abra, 2015).  This appointment gave rise to regulations that “aimed mostly to protect salmon and inshore fisheries, where problems were most visible “, with other “set rules on gear types, size limits, and seasons for dozens of fisheries…” coming near the end of the century and early into the 19th century. Also “[n]ear the end of the century, an effort to increase the depleted cod population off the coast of Newfoundland began with a cod hatchery established in 1889 on Dildo Island and “released over a billion cod fry into the waters of coastal Newfoundland”, (Government of Canada, 2015). It was during this post-confederation era that the fisheries industry began to seek to conserve fishing and seek more sustainable practices, developing rules and restrictions “of fishing times and seasons, fish size, and fishing gear” while “The Fisheries Act also outlawed putting substances that would be harmful to fish into the water.” (Gough & James-abra, 2015). “In 1898 the federal government established the first of several biological and technical research stations under the Biological Board of Canada (later the Fisheries Research Board).” to monitor fishing practices and seek to innovate the industry to be more sustainable. These rules and restrictions were the base of the laws we have today, with many of the original rules and restriction still being enforced.


 With Confederation giving rise to more regulations and rules regarding fishing and fisheries in the North Atlantic waters, the final decisions on what was acceptable was left to each province. This allowed the North Pacific (British Columbia) to also experience a growing economy thanks to the income from their fishing industries, with the Pacific salmon industry becoming the leading fish to be traded at beginning of the 20th century, dwarfing even the highly important halibut and herring trades. Although salted groundfish was still the main trading seafood, scallops and swordfish began to have their own fisheries developed at the beginning of the 19th century.

The World Wars and The Great Depression hit the Maritime and North Atlantic fishing industries hard prompting the Royal Commission of 1927 resulting in “the trawler fleet [being] reduced to only three or four vessels during the 1930s.” (Gough & James-abra, 2015). “Although the Lunenburg fleet in particular was doing more winter fishing  for the fresh-fish market, the trawler “ban” slowed the growth of the fresh, fresh-frozen, and year-round fisheries.” further damaging the economic status of the fishing industry in the Canadian North Atlantic. This combined with the failing economy, a decreased demand, and other financial issues created a perfect storm that delayed the technological advancement of the industry for several decades.

After the wars many innovations to the fishing industry occurred such as; the American development of the “filleting and quick-freezing processes, enabling them to sell packaged fresh or frozen fillets, instead of whole fish, to a wider market.”, and the use of military technology like radars, sonar, radios, nylon nets and hydraulic gear. Governments began to once again encourage these advancements and began to put supports in place to help struggling fishermen and encourage the industry to grow again. These measures also saw the government encourage the fishing of redfish, flounder, flatfish, crab, shrimp, and offshore scallops, and to allow trawler fleets to grow, with some companies having 150 trawlers in their fleets. This push for growth in the industry did have negative consequences in the North Atlantic in the forms of overfishing and overcapacity, “the term used when fishermen’s ability to catch fish, using whatever technology was available to them, meant too many fish were being caught from a conservation perspective.” (Gough & James-abra, 2015).


During the 1960’s and 1970’s pressure began to be put on the fishing industries to be better managed. While fishing on the Pacific coast was banned from 1967-1972 due to the overfishing of herring, fishing on the Atlantic coast was encouraged and still thriving, at dangerous levels that depleted stocks at accelerated rates and damaged ocean ecosystems and wildlife populations. Fishing licences were soon required by all fisheries and fishermen, however “fishermen could in effect buy and sell them and there was no direct control on the number of fishermen fishing.” (Gough & James-abra, 2015). Many other regulatory changes occurred over this time, however the economic, environmental, and social issues that arose from the fishing industry continued to grow. British Columbia was one of the first provinces to develop superb fishery and aquaculture management even with a smaller fleet of ships, due to the increased levels of education, oversight and regulations that controlled their fishery industry due to their “strong local organizations” while the Atlantic fishing industry did not provide as much support for their local and independent fishermen.

Throughout the 1970’s many provinces followed B.C.’s lead and strived to better manage their own fishery operations. This era saw both prosperous times and times of struggle, with the end of the 70’s seeing licensing becoming required for all fishing and the government establishing the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as its own department in 1979. The Fisheries Council of Canada also played a part in representing fish processors “whose plants came under provincial control but many processors-controlled vessels, and the FCC exerted strong influence on the federal fisheries department.” (History of Fishing in Canada 2020). These newly established institutions helped to develop salmon and trout aquaculture, helped promote wide-scale commercial activity, and oversaw the management of many fishing institutions.

In the 1980’s commercial scale marine finfish aquaculture began in Canada, and BC began to import and farm Atlantic salmon, helping the province to take the lead in the fishing industry. By 1988 the value of aquaculture production in Canada is calculated to be an “impressive $433 million” (Government of Canada, 2015). In 1989 a major problem was discovered when inshore fishermen in Newfoundland discovered that the once abundant cod fish were becoming fewer and fewer in their numbers, prompting the government to examine why this was occurring (spoiler, it was from over fishing).

The 1990’s saw a move in the industry from small independent fisheries to larger consolidated companies, while a high number of escaped salmon is discovered in BC fisheries prompting another change in the way fisheries are managed, aiming to “achieve “zero escape” of fish from net-pen facilities.” (Government of Canada, 2015). During this decade, the aquaculture industry value rose to $558 million. In 1992 after years of research and studies, the Fisheries and Oceans Minister John Crosbie instituted a moratorium on cod fishing in the North Atlantic, to allow the decimated population to ‘bounce back’. Once believed to be able to feed the world until the end of time, cod hauls had dropped by over 600,000 tonnes between 1988 and 1995, resulting in the leader of the Newfoundland Fishermen and Allied Workers Union leader Richard Cashin to call the situation “a famine of biblical proportions.” (Marsh & Tattrie, 2016). This discovery also helped to push for the creation of the Fisheries Resource and Conservation Council that was made up of academics, scientists and government officials, and those within the industry to help make the regulations, rules and laws surrounding fisheries and aquaculture in Canada. By 2000 the entirety of Canada’s seafood industry was valued at $1.77 billion.


After the push for sustainable and accountable fishery and aquaculture management and practices in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the 2000’s continued to build upon theses beliefs and further researched better ways to create a healthier, environmentally conscious and sustainable aquaculture and fishing industry, that now existed across Canada. There are now “45 species of finfish, shellfish and marine plants…raised commercially in Canada.”, with the majority being salmon from British Columbia and New Brunswick Oysters and mussels from Prince Edward Island and trout from Central and Western Canada. Shellfish had also overtaken groundfish during the late 90’s as the dominant industry in the aquaculture and fisheries sector and continues to rise. These changes, regulations, practices, and policies also helped to create a safer environment for fishermen as well as increased compensation. In 2010 the seafood industry in Canada was valued at $1.3 billion dollars, demonstrating how vital the industry continues to be for our society and economy.

Fishing is in all our histories and the aquaculture and fishery industry in the Canadian North Atlantic has helped shape the industry across the globe and helped make our country what it is today. The fishing and aquaculture industries provide work to thousands of people across the globe and, as a result, provides food for millions. Noting that most innovations in the industry and its management have only occurred over the last 50 years, the future of the seafood industry is bright and always changing. Be sure to keep an eye out for our follow up blog about the future of the fishery and aquaculture industries.

*For more information on the history of fisheries and aquaculture in Canada please visit the sources below*


  1. (2020). History of Fishing in Canada. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from

Cook, R. (2019, February 14). Atlantic Cod: The good, the bad, and the rebuilding – Part 1. Retrieved October 04, 2020, from

Finley, C. (2013, November 27). The role of fish in the World War II war effort. Retrieved October 04, 2020, from

Gough, J., & James-abra, E. (2015, July 23). History of Commercial Fisheries. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from

Government of Canada, F. (2015, March 03). Farming the seas – A timeline. Retrieved October 04, 2020, from

Holmyard, N. (2019, July 17). New study maps out how the world’s fisheries are interconnected. Retrieved October 06, 2020, from

Marsh, J. H., & Tattrie, J. (2016, March 1). Bluenose. Retrieved October 06, 2020, from

National Museum of Natural History, S. (2019). On the Water. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from

Perspective. (2018, August 09). Canada’s Aquaculture contributes $3.1 billion to Economy. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from

Stokstad, E. (2019, May 27). Fishing fleets have doubled since 1950-but they’re having a harder time catching fish. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from

Somewhere That’s Green:  Our Future Depends on Algae

Somewhere That’s Green: Our Future Depends on Algae

Turn back the clock to around 650 million years ago and you would witness a vastly different world around you void of any life on land, in part due to the air being composed of “less than five percent oxygen, instead being mainly a nitrogen and carbon dioxide mixture” restricting life to begin in the early oceans of earth (Ocean Exploration and Research, 2020). Some organisms, such as phytoplankton and algae, that lived in these oceans had evolved to utilise the carbon dioxide rich atmosphere and the sun’s radiation to provide themselves energy, producing oxygen as a by-product in a process called photosynthesis. In fact, “[t]he oldest known fossil is from a marine cyanobacterium, a tiny-blue green photosynthesizer that was releasing oxygen 3.5 billion years ago.” (Morsink, 2018). Over millions of years life thrived in the increasingly oxygen filled atmosphere and evolving and diversifying until the oxygen produced by these countless organisms was at such a volume that it raised oxygen levels to be closer to the 21 percent that exists in our atmosphere today, allowing life to emerge from the oceans and begin to survive on land. That gooey green grass, seaweed and those ominous looking algae blooms that we tend to not often think off unless it is surprising us on a swim or impacting our lives, is what is responsible for us all existing on this planet, and is essential for life to continue on this beautiful blue marble we call Earth.

What are Algae?

Algae is an extremely diverse family that includes “microscopic, unicellular organisms that grow in group while other types are much bigger, such as seaweed and giant kelp. Varieties include blue-green algae, green algae, red algae, and brown algae.” (Leisure Pro, 2019). Phytoplankton is an “unicellular plant-like organism” that “is the base of the marine food chain.” while aiding in the production of oxygen needed for life to continue to thrive on Earth (Leisure Pro, 2019). One of the most abundant forms of algae on Earth was only discovered in the late 1980’s and is called ‘Prochlorococcus’ which is now estimated “to be responsible for producing 20 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere.”, meaning that, “[o]ne in every five breaths you take, you owe to Prochlorococcus.” (Morsink, 2018). Because of their need for solar radiation to properly photosynthesize, many organisms such as Prochlorococcus must reside in areas of the ocean known as the ‘photic zone’, which “extends down to about 656 feet (200 metres) below the surface of the ocean” where the Sun’s light can still reach it. However, some forms of red algae have been found to still photosynthesize at depths of 886 feet below the surface, demonstrating the resilience these creatures have.

Through photosynthesis these organisms create and maintain healthy marine aquatic ecosystems by operating as a natural filter that also provides oxygen not only to the land, but to the animals that require it within the ocean as well. When “nutrient-rich waters reach the top [they] trigger an increase in algal density, called algal blooms.” that may appear to be harmful as they consume the ocean waters around them, but are actually highly beneficial, increasing biological processes while “ more organic compounds are produced for higher organisms, like oysters, clams, mussels, and ultimately, humans.”, making these blooms necessary for ocean life to thrive (Leisure Pro, 2019).

In a way, many forms of algae are the best friends of the ocean. They form symbiotic relationships with several species of marine life like sponges and coral, the latter of which cannot survive in an environment where algae is absent, and provide nourishment and energy to those marine animals that consume it, maintaining a balance that is necessary for healthy ecosystems. Unfortunately, as with friends, sometimes algae have buddies who are not as great. “An algae bloom occurs when the conditions are right for phytoplankton to reproduce rapidly,” but this can be detrimental to smaller bodies of water where the algae can suck the oxygen from the ‘room’ through its decaying process as older algae dies off asphyxiating the life around them (Nichols, 2020). Other forms of algae can be toxic, although “less than 1% of algae blooms actually produce toxins.” These toxic algae blooms can cause illness in humans who encounter the algae, typically through the consumption of tainted seafood, and even death in many other species. When death occurs in the ocean, the dearly departed sinks to the floor and decays, further expelling more toxins into the waters. If the harmful algae are deadly to a mass number of creatures then this can create a highly toxic environment that destroys ecosystems.    Thankfully, these are the minority and the benefits of algae far outweigh the deficits.

“[B]etween 1994 and 2007, our oceans absorbed 34 gigatons of the world’s carbon through algae, vegetation, and coral. In other words, the trees might not save us—but the oceans could” and because of this, more focus has been given to the study of algae in more recent years in hopes that our environmental salvation will come in the form of not plant life on land, but from the form of life that helped start it all (Lamm, 2019). Without healthy marine ecosystems the right kind of algae create that provide the oxygen, nutrients and homes needed for life to thrive, ocean life will continue to deteriorate and we could face a seafood shortage, or worse, a continued increase to the carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, making our air more toxic for life on Earth.

How Algae is Changing the World

Our future is in our oceans and not only the oxygen that comes from them, but also the seafood that is necessary for the world food supply and the vital fishing and aquaculture sectors that majorly contribute to the world economy.  While algae in the ocean promotes the sustainability of those environments, algae are also being harvested for eco friendly solutions.


In an effort to minimize our plastic use and thus reduce the negative effects plastic pollution has on our environments, ocean and air quality and our Earth, “[o]ne promising answer to the plastic problem is…to replace non-degradable plastic manufactured from petroleum based oil with sustainably produced and degradable bioplastics, that is, plastics produced by living organisms such as plants, algae and bacteria.” (The University of Queensland, 2019). Plastics made from living organisms can also aid in reducing the environmental impact of ‘ghost gear’ in our oceans that is discarded or lost from fishing vessels. These bioplastics are costly to create at this time, but efforts are being made to find innovations that can make bioplastics the way of the future.


The history behind Algae as a source of biofuel (fuel made from sustainable natural resources, rather than from environmentally harmful petroleum) is a sordid one with it being posed as a complete replacement only to have the process it takes to convert it be discovered as energy consuming to a point where it was not feasible or responsible to do so, but the advantages were too numerous to completely give up. “These algal advantages include higher biofuel yields compared to previous systems, a diverse list of possible fuel types including biodiesel, butanol, ethanol and even jet fuel, as well as the fact that large-scale algae cultivation – whether in open ponds or more advanced closed-loop systems – can be done on land unsuitable for food crops, removing a key concern that biofuel feedstock crops would compete with food producers.” once again showcasing the versatility of algae and how it is so important to our future (Lo, 2020). More recent innovations to this process have put algae as a biofuel back in the running as a sustainable means for fuel, that would greatly reduce the use of fossil fuels such as petroleum. If algae take hold as a viable and sustainable biofuel, this will mean not only a healthier planet, but a more accessible and les costly form of fuel for all.


Algae has also been used in sustainable aquaculture practices, as “[i]t is widely known that the addition of microalgae to larval fish culture tanks confers a number of benefits…” to their immune and digestive systems as well as to the nutritional value of zooplankton promoting healthy seafood production (Towers, 2013). Integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) is an innovative approach that is continuously being studied, developed and utilised to create more sustainable aquaculture practices that closer resemble the natural order through implementing a food chain within the pond being farmed. Through combining various algae, shellfish (such as oysters), a filter animal (or an actual filter) and the fish themselves, seafood farmers can grow numerous species for harvest while saving water treatment costs by allowing the algae to clean the water, and food costs by promoting a natural food chain between the species.

Fish Food

As algae is the base of all marine life some fish larvae also benefit from consuming and digesting the algae directly, enhancing the overall quality of the larvae. Now algae such as seaweed and phytoplankton are posed to replace the more traditionally used fishmeal that is an unsustainable natural resource, in hopes of creating a more sustainable and healthy substitute as they provide the same essential amino acids, taurine and lipids as fishmeal while leaving a greatly reduced detrimental environmental impact.

The Future is Green

With algae having so many practical uses and so much potential for the future and it being the largest producer of the oxygen our atmosphere needs for life to continue on our planet, we cannot deny that promoting the growth of algae is necessary for our survival. The only way to achieve this is through creating and maintaining healthy marine ecosystems that promote the growth of the healthy oxygen and life-giving algae by reducing carbon emissions, plastic consumption and overall waste on both an individual and industrial level. By putting our focus on the many uses and purposes of algae and promoting and maintaining healthy and sustainable environments for it to thrive in and promote life, we can help to ensure our economic, environmental and personal survival on this world.


*For more information on the uses, history and the future of algae please visit the sources below*


Afework, B., Hanania, J., Stenhouse, K., Vargas Suarez, L., & Donev, J. (2020). Energy Education- Algae biofuel. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from

Lamm, B. (2019, September 30). Algae might be a secret weapon to combatting climate change. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from

Lo, C. (2020, September 28). Algal biofuel: The long road to commercial viability. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from

Leisure Pro. (2019, May 17). How Algae is Both Good and Bad for Marine Ecosystems. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from

Morsink, K. (2018, May 09). With Every Breath You Take, Thank the Ocean. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

Nichols, M. (2020, June 12). What Can Algae Blooms in the Ocean Teach Us About Climate Change? Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

Ocean Exploration and Research. (2020). How has the ocean made life on land possible? Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

Roque D’Orbcastel, E., Boudin, E., Li, M., Carcaillet, F., & Fouilland, E. (2019, November 28). Fish, Algae, and Oysters: The Winning Trio in Aquaculture. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from

The University of Queensland. (2019, September 27). Could algae help us fight the plastic problem? Retrieved September 29, 2020, from

Towers, L. (2013, November 25). The Use of Algae in Fish Feeds as Alternatives to Fishmeal. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from

Western Digital. (2019, February 12). Infographic: Keeping Algae in Check. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from

How our Oceans are Vital to all Life on Earth and What Can be Done to Protect Them

How our Oceans are Vital to all Life on Earth and What Can be Done to Protect Them

“All life on Earth is connected to the ocean and its inhabitants”, making it vital for life to exist (10 Things You Can Do to Save the Ocean, 2010). Ocean waters cover 71% of our Earth’s surface we have not fully explored the mysteries our ocean’s hold with scientists estimating that they have yet to discover 90% of the species that inhabit them (Lonne, 2020. Marine Conservation Institute, 2020). Our oceans provide more than 50% of the oxygen we need to breathe (more than the amazon rainforest) while acting as a massive sponge for carbon dioxide and other pollutants, regulating our climate and giving a home to massive food resources (Marine Conservation Institute, 2020). The balance the oceans bring to our Earth is necessary for life to continue this planet. These cradles of life are undergoing a massive environmental change due to the effects of climate change that are threatening not only the ecosystems within and around them, but our survival and way of life.
(For more fun facts about our oceans visit;

What’s Going on Down There?

As the human population increased and the industrial revolution changed the world, humans have created an exponential amount of waste that is harmful to our planet, known as a carbon footprint. The plastic we use, the transportation we choose, the products we purchase create  Figure 1.1

carbon emissions and pollution that contribute to our carbon footprint. As the ocean acts as a great sponge, filtering out harmful pollutants from our air, it absorbs more and more toxins that can and can create acid like waters that kill the ocean life and ecosystems within them while increasing the toxicity of some species, making them more harmful to be eaten.  What do we know?! Well we know that greenhouse gases have caused the temperatures of ocean waters to rise in response to the excessive levels of carbon dioxide and pollutants that are being absorbed by our oceans (FIGURE 1.1). “In the last half-century, the ocean has absorbed 90% of the excess heat created by burning fossil fuels. That’s led to warmer waters, which can affect where fish swim, bleach coral reefs, change how marine species reproduce, speed up sea-level rise, and even alter weather events on land.” (7 ways you can help save the ocean, 2018). Another phenomenon arising from this excess heat are ‘marine heat waves’, which kill ocean species that inhabit effected ecosystems that promote healthy environments and provide the oxygen we breathe (Plumer, 2019).  The expansion of our oceans (water + heat = expansion of water), and the melting of
Figure 1.2

glaciers and massive ice sheets, have resulted in sea levels rising over 8 inches in some areas of the world over the past five decades (FIGURE 1.2). This increase in sea level has resulted in a loss of even more vital ecosystems, such as our wetlands, and coastlines, literally shrinking the land mass of some areas. With our oceans taking over more land, flooding has become an increasing concern in areas that were once safe from the effects of flooding. The intense weather systems that are becoming more frequent due to the oceans effect on our climate, can raise sea levels even more which can cause catastrophic damage resulting in loss of businesses, property and life.

In response to the extreme condition’s climate change has created in our oceans several species have altered their migration patterns to survive, however this has also reduced many species abilities to reproduce in numbers that they once did. This change has had a negative impact on fisheries and aquaculture the world over as they work to adapt to understand the new patterns and to a reduction in the availability and quality of seafood available.

Sustainable Fishing and Aquaculture

For thousands of years, marine life has
provided the sustenance needed to live. Fish have
long been a staple of many diets throughout various cultures, resulting in the rise of aquaculture and fisheries. The seafood industry employs over 58 million people globally making it a crucial part of the global economy (Shahbandeh, 2020). As the population of our earth increased so did the demand for seafood, creating the problem of overfishing that has been dubbed as “… the greatest threat our ocean faces, and global fish populations are rapidly decreasing due to high demand and unsustainable fishing practices.” (7 ways you can help save the ocean, 2018).     

In response to “global fish populations (…) rapidly being depleted due to demand, loss of habitat and unsustainable fishing practices.”, sustainable fishing practices became the ethical approach to enable ocean species that were struggling to have a chance to repopulate and survive, produce seafood for consumption and to improve the overall health of our oceans and waterways (10 Things You Can Do to Save the Ocean, 2010). The traceability of seafood is essential for this process to be successful, as it ensures that any claims of sustainability and healthy seafood are accurate. Through sustainable practices the seafood industry is ensuring its future by providing the seafood needed to feed the world’s populations, preserving ocean ecosystems, reducing its carbon footprint and by producing more fish then they harvest allowing struggling species a chance for survival. But sustainable fishing alone will not save our oceans, we all must do our part.

How to Make a Difference

Many countries have created action plans, such as the Paris Agreement, to help restore the balance to our oceans and promote healthy ecosystems and life within it, while many aquaculture and fishery operations have adopted sustainable fishing practices, the survival of our oceans and our planet depend on every organisation and individual to do their part. Thankfully, there are many ways to reduce our carbon footprint and help to fight the warming and expansion of our oceans and the negative effects that result.

  1. Unplug

Even if you are not using an electrical item, if it is plugged in it is using energy and producing pollution. “The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that this “phantom” energy use accounts for 75% of the power consumed by electronics in the average home.”, so why not save some money and help our planet and unplug any electronics not in use (Hunter Benson, 2018).

Businesses can also reduce their energy consumptions by ensuring that lights are off in unused rooms or by installing motion sensor lighting throughout their buildings and through turning off computers and other office equipment at the end of the work day and utilising the sleep or hibernation setting on their PCs (not screen savers).

Placing live plants inside of the business promotes healthier air and act as a natural air conditioner, helping to reduce a businesses energy consumption and their power bill (Rooney, 2019).

  1. Reduce Your Waste

“With 8 million tons of plastic dumped into the ocean each year, there could be a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the ocean within the next decade alone.” (7 ways you can help save the ocean, 2018). Strive to use environmentally friendly products like paper straws and reusable bags to reduce the plastic that end up in our oceans. This plastic can entangle marine life or be digested by it resulting in the animal’s death or increased toxicity.

Businesses that practice recycling programs and limit the amount of plastics they use in the production and marketing of their goods are also doing their part to limit their waste and need to be supported by consumers. In the aquaculture and fishery sectors there is an issue of ‘ghost gear’ that is equipment that has been lost in some form and left to the will of the ocean. “In the Northwest Atlantic, it’s estimated that lobster fishers lose up to two per cent of their traps every year, while in the Pacific Ocean, ghost gear makes up 46 per cent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”, making the proper storage and maintenance of the equipment they use crucial in not only helping our oceans, but limiting their financial losses (Something spooky is lurking in our oceans, 2020).

The products used in our homes and in industries can be a detriment to our ocean environments as well. Cat litter, for example, if poured down a drain is toxic to many species if ingested. Toxic cleaners and products can end up going down the drain and possibly travel to the coast, polluting our seas.

In mass scale production and in small scale business “Product toxicity reduction should be a core element of business strategy because it can reduce reputational and litigation liabilities, help companies avoid “toxic lockout” of their products from the marketplace, and drive innovation.” (Liroff, 2009). Reducing the use of harmful and toxic chemicals, such as eliminating bleached paper from any offices, and implementing eco-friendly chemicals that can break down easily without leaving long term negative environmental impacts is essential to operating an environmentally responsible operation.

Both the Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices page ( and the Government of Canada website ( offer information on how to identify what products have less of an environmental impact.


  1. Be Conscious of What You Buy and What You Eat
    Knowing what you are buying, where it comes from, what it is made of and if the producer is environmentally responsible is essential in promoting sustainable and eco-friendly practices in organizations. Steer clear of any products that endanger vulnerable wildlife such as coral jewelry, shark products and anything made with parts of endangered species and seek out local restaurants and stores that sell sustainable seafood to promote healthy fish populations and support the vital fishery and aquaculture industries.

“The American Heart Association recommends that we eat fish at least twice a week, since fish are high in protein, low in saturated fats and rich in omega-3 fatty acids.”, in order to promote good heart health and fight cardiovascular disease and with the Earth’s population is projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, sustainable and well managed aquaculture and fisheries are necessary (Cho, 2016). Reports have determined that “the world will be able to catch an additional 10 million metric tons of fish in 2050 if management stays as effective as it is today… If such a management system is enforced, an additional 35 million metric tons of fish could be caught sustainably in 2050.”, but, as with any business, it starts at the top. Analyzing and altering the management systems of a business, especially in our fisheries and aquaculture sectors, to reflect sustainable and responsible practices is, “[t]he best way to protect the long-term food and economic security that the ocean provides…” (Will there be enough fish to feed the world in 2050?, 2017).


  1. Travel with the Environment in Mind

When travelling, try to use transportation methods that reduce your carbon footprint such as public transit, and if you drive your own vehicle ensure that it is in excellent working condition, with properly inflated tires. “In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that under-inflated

tires waste about 1.2 billion gallons of gas per year in the U.S. Cutting back on fossil fuel consumption can help curb the effects of climate change and ocean acidification, which are altering ocean chemistry and disrupting marine wildlife on a global scale.” (Hunter Benson, 2018). Ensuring that the transportation methods utilized in the production and marketing of goods are in superb condition and working at their peak not only helps reduce carbon emissions but accelerates delivery times and ensures proper and safe handling of the products.

Another great way for any business to do its part in keeping our environment and our oceans clean and healthy is by employing mass shipping methods to limit the amount of emissions necessary to deliver your products, using biodegradable packaging options and working with shipping companies that use ‘green’ shipping and packaging methods

  1. Knowledge is Power
    Education is never ending, and a wise person will tell you they can always learn more. Seek out information on what environmental policies your community, employer, and country are practicing and what your business can do to reduce its carbon footprint and become more environmentally responsible. Learn about environmentally and socially responsible organizations and support them though purchasing their products, employing their services or partnering with them and be sure to keep yourself and/or your business management up to date on the ever-changing situation with our oceans.

If you can, volunteer and partner with marine conservation organizations, efforts and charities and use the opportunity to meet like minded individuals who may offer even more knowledge about our oceans and how to help. Speak up about the state of our oceans and offer information to others while promoting environmentally friendly and sustainable practices in your day-to-day life and in any business dealings and decisions.

A lot has changed within our oceans and their surrounding ecosystems over the last century and our understanding of life within them and their impact on the quality of life on Earth is still being discovered. Our oceans are an awesome force of power and an endless source of amazement that gave life to every creature on our planet, now it is our turn to return the favour.

*For more information on our ocean systems, sustainable fishing and aquaculture, and what you can do to make a difference please visit any of the sources listed below


Al Jazeera, A. J. (2019, December 7). Ocean oxygen levels drop endangering marine life: Report. News | Al Jazeera.

Canary, A. (2019, April 22). 3 Ways Your Business Can Try Green Shipping with Eco-Friendly Packaging. ShipStation.

Cho, R. (2016, April 13). Making Fish Farming More Sustainable. State of the Planet.

Gibbens, S. (2019, February 28). Climate change is depleting our essential fisheries. Climate change and overfishing has shrunk global fisheries, study finds.

Gibbens, S. (2019, February 28). Climate change is depleting our essential fisheries. National Geographic Society.

Hunter Benson, M. (2018, May 14). 5 Simple Things You Can Do for the Ocean.

Liroff, R. (2009, November 30). How Companies Are Committing to Reduce Toxic Footprints. Greenbiz.

Lonne, T. (2020, April 1). 50 fascinating facts about the ocean.

Marine Conservation Institute. (2020, July 28). Why Protect Oceans? Marine Conservation Institute.

National Geographic Society. (2012, October 9). Sustainable fishing. National Geographic Society.

National Geographic. (2010, April 27). 10 Things You Can Do to Save the Ocean.

Nunez, C. (2019, February 27). Sea level rise, explained. Sea level rise, facts and information.

The Ocean Foundation. (2020, June 10). Ocean and Climate Change. The Ocean Foundation.

Oyinlola, M. (2016, July 6). Five key aspects of sustainable aquaculture: Can aquaculture help tackle global food security, especially in Africa? Nereus Program.

Plumer, B. (2019, September 25). The World’s Oceans Are in Danger, Major Climate Change Report Warns. The New York Times.

Rooney, J. (2019, December 8). Eight Simple Ways Business can Save Energy. Business Green.

Shahbandeh, M. (2020, September 8). Number of people working in fishing and aquaculture worldwide 2018. Statista.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2016, August 2). Climate Change Indicators: Oceans. EPA.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2016, December 17). Climate Change Indicators: Sea Surface Temperature. EPA.

van der Veeken , S. (2020, June 25). 7 Reasons why the ocean is SO important. Oceanpreneur.

World Wildlife Fund. (2018, June 6). 7 ways you can help save the ocean. WWF.

World Wildlife Fund. (2020). How climate change relates to oceans. WWF.

World Wildlife Fund. (2020, September 15). Something spooky is lurking in our oceans. WWF.

World Wildlife Fund. (2017, January 13). Will there be enough fish to feed the world in 2050? WWF.

Startups Aim to Optimize Supply Chain

Startups Aim to Optimize Supply Chain

Not so long ago, people would say Sheamus MacDonald has fishing in his blood. These days, however, MacDonald, 30, would more than likely be described as a tech entrepreneur, albeit focused on the fishery sector.

He’s the CEO of a Dartmouth-based Startup, which is developing systems that help optimize the supply chain in the fishing industry with a product called the Sedna Ecosystem. The Ecosystem follows a catch throughout the supply chain, so that information can be easily accessed to update purchase orders, sales orders, prices, inventories and product offerings moment-to-moment.

By using internet of things, a system of interrelated sensors, to transfer data over a network so that storage conditions such as temperature and water quality could be monitored, a premium product is ensured and spoilage avoided.

In recognition of his work MacDonald is being presented with the Mitacs Global Impact Entrepreneur Award on Wednesday, during a virtual awards ceremony.

Growing up in Judique, Inverness County, the son of a snow crab fisherman, MacDonald says he was always involved in the fishing industry in one way or another.

He earned his undergraduate degree in Aquatic Resources Management at STFX University in Antigonish, not far from his home. After his undergraduate degree, MacDonald says he headed west, briefly, to work in the oil and gas industry but eventually came back to the East Coast to work in Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil and gas sector as an environmental technician. “After a few years though..I wanted to get closer to fishing, so I came back home and went fishing with my father,” he explains.

It was while he was fishing that he decided to fo for a graduate degree in fisheries management from Memorial University of Newfoundland. And during his time off, MacDonald was working as a supply management consultant for a few companies to help them optimize their business.

It was during that time that MacDonald moved from actually fishing to becoming more involved in the business operations side of the fishing business. From there, he was able to identify some of the key problems most fishing operations had, which was mainly “identifying quality and making sure everything was coming though their supply chain.”

But it wasn’t until he was having a conversation with his formater roommate at STFX, Aleksandr Stabenow who was working in supply chain technology that the idea of creating a technology company to help the fishery was discussed.

“I was telling him what I was doing and he said, ‘Hey we could solve a lot of this with technology.’ And we kind of put our heads together and came up with the product and started the company,” says MacDonald. Besides being the co-founder of the company, Stabenow is also Sedna Technologies’ chief technology officer.

“I’m just finishing up my graduate degree in fisheries and Mitacs is an organization that helps academics trying to commercialize products. So a lot of the work I was doing was optimizing  supply chains to reduce waste.. My whole thought is, ‘if you are going to harvest a product or a resource, just make sure it gets to market,” he says.

Sedna Technology’s Ecosystem product first came to market around November 2018. In 2019, the first full year of operation, MacDonald says the company had really strong sales “doubled what our expectations were and coming into 2020, again we were still trying to accelerate that growth.”

Sedna works across the entire supply chain, he says. “We work with harvesters, we also work with the buyers and exporters with holding facilities before the product is shipped overseas. Locally, some of his clients included Louisbourg Seafoods Ltd., Victoria Co-operative Fisheries Ltd, in Neil’s Harbour and the Ceilidh Fishermen’s Co-op Ltd. in Port Hood

“We focus with live product, although we do work with other species, we are able to track when it was caught and the conditions it was held in. We have a preemptive decision making tool so that they can see changes to the environment that may alter the health of the product.

Our whole mandate was to enhance and enrich the seafood supply chain,” says MacDonald.

Read more about Mitacs Entrepreneur Awards:

Water Quality Traceability and Salmon Quality

Water Quality Traceability and Salmon Quality

Sedna Technologies is highly engaged with the academic community and we are constantly collaborating on research projects as well as bringing on interns to further develop skills and growth. At Sedna, we have been working with Gregin Soju following his graduation from the Industrial Engineering Technology program at NSCC. On top of optimizing internal processes and documents, Gregin has also put together a comprehensive write up of how water quality influences the overall quality, growth and welfare of salmon in the aquaculture supply chain.

The Importance of Monitoring Water Quality in Aquaculture

For obtaining success in aquaculture the species should be provided with a satisfactory environment for growth. Water quality is determined by physic-chemical and biological factors that directly or indirectly affects the survival, growth and reproduction of the fish.

Hundreds of water quality variables may affect the well being of fish or crustaceans, but fortunately, only a few normally play a decisive role (Boyd.1995). They can be mainly divided into 3:

  • Physical Parameters : Temperature, Turbidity, Salinity and W
  • Chemical Parameters: Dissolved oxygen (DO), Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), Carbon-di-oxide (CO2), Alkalinity, Conductivity, Chloride, Hardness, Ammonia (NH3), Nitrite (NO2), Nitrate (NO3)
  • Biological Parameters: Plankton, Primary Productivity


Water temperature greatly influences physiological processes such as respiration rate, efficiency of feeding and assimilation, reproduction, behaviour and growth. Temperature also affects oxygen solubility and causes interactions of several other water quality parameters.

Standard environmental temperature (SET) is required for the optimum growth of fish. The optimum temperature range varies from one species to another.

What happens when the temperature is below recommended value?

Below recommended values can cause reduced feed intakes leading to a reduction in growth and high death rates. Fish are more stressed at low temperatures, therefore more susceptible to disease.

What happens when the temperature is above recommended value?

There is a lower solubility of oxygen leading to stress and death at extreme temperatures.

Dissolved Oxygen:

Dissolved oxygen refers to the free, non-compound oxygen present in water. The leading source of dissolved oxygen in water is atmospheric air and photosynthetic planktons. It affects the survival, growth behaviour, distribution and physiology of the species. Depletion in the level of oxygen can cause reduced growth, poor feeding of fish and increased fish mortality either directly or indirectly.

A minimum DO concentration of 5 mg/L is recommended for warm-water fish and 6 mg/L for cold-water species (Thomas 1994). Crustaceans are also sensitive to low DO conditions. The optimum dissolved oxygen level is 5-8 ppm.

What happens when the dissolved oxygen is consistently below the recommended value?

Below 0 – 1.5 mg/l- Dangerous if exposed for long periods.

Below 1.4-5 mg/l – Fish survive, but reduced feed intake, slow growth, stress and increased susceptibility to diseases. It also results in building up of toxic wastes.

What happens when the dissolved oxygen is consistently above the recommended value?

Gas bubble trauma when the water is supersaturated to levels of 300% or above.

Carbon-di-oxide ( CO2):

In all water bodies CO2 is a common component. When compared to natural water, aquaculture ponds have a higher percentage of biological activity. Dissolved carbon dioxide concentrations cycle daily, and the amplitude of those daily fluctuations depend on the relative rates of photosynthesis and respiration.

CO2 concentration of 10- 15 mg/l is recommended as a maximum for finfish, concentrations in open and pond water averaged less than 6mg/L (Boyd 1990,1995).

The optimum level of CO2 is 5 ppm.


Low pH affects fish gill structure and function and affects the metabolism and physiological processes of culture organisms. It also affects the solubility and chemical forms of various compounds, some of which can be toxic.

An optimum pH value is between 7 and 8.5 for fish life.

What happens when consistently below recommended value?

Below 4: Acid death point.

4 to 6: Survive but stressed, slow growth, reduced feed intake, higher FCR.

What happens when consistently above recommended value?

9-11: Stressful for catfish, slow growth rate.

Above 11: Alkaline death point, all life including bacteria in the pond will die at this point.

Ammonia (NH3):

Ammonia is a by-product of  a protein breakdown. Depending on the PH level of water it occurs in two forms; (ammonia) and nontoxic form (ammonium). The sum of the two is called total ammonium or simply ammonia. Ammonia in the range greater than or equal to 0.1 mg/L tends to cause gill damage, destroy mucous producing membranes. It also results in poor feed conversation, reduced growth and osmoregulatory imbalance.

The optimum level of NH3 is 0.3 to 1.33 ppm and less than 0.1 ppm are unproductive.

Nitrite (NO2):

Nitrite is an intermediate in the process of nitrification, which is the two-stepped oxidation of ammonium to nitrate carried out by highly aerobic, gram-negative, chemoautotrophic bacteria. It oxidizes hemoglobin to methemoglobin in the blood, turning the blood and gills brown and hindering respiration. It also damages the nervous system, liver, spleen and kidneys of fish.

The ideal and normal measurement of nitrite is zero in any aquatic system. The optimum level of nitrite is 2.5 mg/L.

Nitrate (NO3):

Nitrate (NO3) is a common form of inorganic combined nitrogen in natural waste and aquaculture systems. Most of the nitrate found in unpolluted natural waters is the product of nitrification. Nitrate may be applied to pond bottom soils to prevent reducing conditions that leads to sulfide production. Where ammonia and Nitrite are toxic to fish, Nitrate is harmless. Its concentrations from 0 to 200 ppm are acceptable in fishponds and is generally low toxic for some species whereas especially the marine species are sensitive to its presence.

The Nitrate level is normally stabilized in the 50 -100 pm in range.

Aquaculture Value chain

For better production and harvest, the water quality must be optimal throughout the supply chain. Transportation of fish is generally an  important  practice  in  aquaculture. In transporting fish, there are technicalities in which  one  needs  to  understand  for  successful transportation.

The slaughter period includes the effects of pre-slaughter treatments such as transportation, handling and stunning, in addition to the killing of fish. Most fish species are starved for a period before slaughter. During starvation the fish will lose biomass as they mobilise energy stores such as lipids, but after several days, the biomass reduction will slow down as the fish become hypometabolic and down regulate their metabolisms. Depending on the production system, the fish is then caught, stunned and killed or transported by some means to slaughter sight. This last period in the fish’s production cycle is probably the time when various welfare issues most strongly affect general muscle quality traits. So real time monitoring is necessary during the entire supply chain.

Stress is defined as a condition in which the dynamic equilibrium of  animal  organisms  called  homeostasis  is threatened  or  disturbed as  a result  of  actions of intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli, commonly defined as stressors. Stress during transportation includes water quality, handling, temperature and crowding.

This section provides annual statistics on the volume of aquaculture (In tonnes) production in Canada. The data is organized by species and province.

From the above figure, salmon is one of the species that is being produced in mass volume. The water quality must be maintained to optimize production.

Dissolved Oxygen and Salmon Growth:

USEPA (1986) performed a literature review and cites the effects of various dissolved oxygen concentrations on salmonid life stages other than embryonic and larval (Table 2). These effects range from no impairment at 8 mg/L to acute mortality at dissolved oxygen levels below 3 mg/L.


Salmonid mortality begins to occur when dissolved oxygen concentrations are below 3 mg/L for periods longer than 3.5 days (US EPA 1986). A summary of various field study results by WDOE (2002) reports that significant mortality occurs in natural waters when dissolved oxygen concentrations fluctuate the range of 2.5 – 3 mg/L. Long-term (20 – 30 days) constant exposure to mean dissolved oxygen concentrations below 3 – 3.3 mg/L is likely to result in 50% mortality of juvenile salmonids (WDOE, 2002). According to a short-term (1 – 4 hours) exposure study by Burdick et al. (1954, as cited by WDOE, 2002), in warm water (20 – 21°C) salmonids may require daily minimum oxygen levels to remain above 2.6 mg/L to avoid significant (50%) mortality. From these and other types of studies, WDOE (2002) concluded that juvenile salmonid mortality can be avoided if daily minimum dissolved oxygen concentration remain above 3.9 mg/L, and the monthly or weekly average of minimum concentrations remains above 4.6 mg/L

C02 and Salmon Growth:

Atlantic salmon post-smolts were exposed to six CO2 concentrations (5–40 mg/L) for 12 weeks in 12 ppt salinity RAS

Fish showed no mortality, cataracts, nephron calcinosis or signs of external injuries. Skin dermis layer was significantly thinner in fish exposed to 40 mg/L of CO2. Body weight and growth were significantly lower at CO2 concentrations ≥12 mg/L.

Temperature and Salmon Growth:

Efficient salmon growth was previously believed to be best promoted at water temperatures between 13 – 17 degrees Celsius (Wallace, 1993). However, recent studies show that growth is better achieved at colder temperatures. In controlled experiments in which salmon were fed at temperatures of 13, 15, 17, and 19 degrees Celsius over 45 days, the experiment showed that the most efficient growth was achieved at a water temperature of 13 degrees Celsius (Ernst M Hevroy et al., 2013). Furthermore, salmon that lived at temperatures of 15 and 17 degrees Celsius grew efficiently in the first two weeks but exhibited reduced feed intake and growth over the remainder of the study period. Additional research is necessary to determine whether the optimal temperature is lower than 13 degrees Celsius. This finding indicates that the best temperature interval, or the comfort zone for the salmon, should be somewhere around or below 13 degrees Celsius.

Nitrate and Salmon Growth

Nitrite has an affinity for the mechanism of absorption of chloride in the gill; that is to say, NO₂¯ can replace Cl¯ in gill transporters of chloride / bicarbonate (Cl¯ / HCO₃¯). Therefore, provided that NO₂¯ is present in the water, a part of the absorption of Cl¯ will shift towards the absorption of NO₂¯, which can also lead to the accumulation of NO₂¯ in plasma and have a negative effect on productive performance and animal welfare.

Experimental Study:

The study was conducted with 810 Atlantic salmon parr divided into 15 ponds, where they were exposed to five different nominal concentrations of NO₂¯ (0, 0.5, 2.5 and 10 NO₂¯ -N, mg / L) and with a constant nominal concentration of Cl¯ (200 mg / L), for 12 weeks.

Growth rate reduced

The study’s results showed that the specific growth rate (SGR) was significantly reduced compared to the control, during the first three weeks, in fish exposed to the highest concentration of nitrite (10 mg NO₂¯ -N / L) and a Cl¯: NO₂¯ -N ratio of 21:1. “The results suggest the activation of compensation and adaptation mechanisms in the last stages of the experiment,” wrote the study’s authors.

As explained by the main author, Xavier Gutiérrez, who is general manager of NIVA Chile, “in the study no significant effects of NO₂¯ were found on the gill tissue, associated mortality, food intake and conversion (FCR) and physiological markers (Cl¯, glucose and pH). However, it was found that nitrite entered the plasma of fish exposed to the two highest nominal concentrations of nitrite, 5 and 10 mg / L, and Cl¯ : NO₂¯ -N ratios of 43:1 and 21:1, respectively”.

Industry standard ‘not enough’

The authors concluded that “the ratio of Cl¯ : NO₂¯ -N previously recommended for fish culture in RAS of 20:1 (Timmons & Ebeling; 2007), which today uses the industry as a standard, is not enough to protect Atlantic salmon during the early stages of nitrite exposure. Consequently, it is recommended to maintain a ratio of Cl¯ : NO₂¯ -N above 104:1 to avoid the accumulation of nitrite in the plasma of the Atlantic salmon in parr stage and growth losses”.

Ammonia and Salmon Growth:

Ammonia is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms, even in very low concentrations. When levels reach 0.06 mg/L, fish can suffer gill damage. When levels reach 0.2 mg/L, sensitive fish like trout and salmon begin to die. As levels near 2.0 mg/L, even ammonia-tolerant fish like carp begin to die. Ammonia levels greater than approximately 0.1 mg/L usually indicate polluted waters. The danger ammonia poses for fish depends on the water’s temperature and pH, along with the dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Remember, the higher the pH and the warmer the temperature, the more toxic the ammonia. Also, ammonia is much more toxic to fish and aquatic life when water contains very little dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Figure (a) represents relative growth and Figure(b) represents relative mortality due to IPN virus susceptibility as a function of the degree of intensive rearing in juvenile Atlantic Salmon. Each circle represents an experiment with different water quality treatments, and each point represents an average of the experiment groups estimated as a percentage of the control groups (dashed line). All treatments are within the normal range of salmon farming, and the treatments within each experiment range from optimal (left side) to sub-optimal (right side).

In extensive systems, the farmer has no possibility to control the water quality and few means to avoid suboptimal levels of, for example oxygen concentration. Intensive industrial framing on the other hand, includes high fish density produced with less water, high energy feed and fast growth, short generation time and season-independent production. In these systems, the fish farmer may easily monitor and change water quality traits, but these systems face the challenge of finding a balance between what is economically optional for the farmer and the limits of acceptable fish welfare.


Traceability has become an important tool to communicate ethical quality of fish products. Food and feed operators should be able to identify any person from whom they have been supplied with a food, a feed, a food-producing animal, or any substance to be, or expected to be, incorporated into a food or feed. There should be systems and procedures to identify other businesses to which their products have been supplied. This can be done using paper and pen having large batch sizes, but if technologies such as sensors or data carries are used, this would speed up the product registration and open possibilities for the use of the data in the management of food production chains. The data captured by traceability systems could then be used for other processes such as process rationalisation, process optimisation and marketing.

  • Helps to trace the movement of products from origin to point of sale.
  • Helps to find inefficiencies in the operation
  • Saves money and time.
  • Ensure quality throughout the supply chain and prevent losses.