Some of the best Arctic char you can buy in Canada is not caught wild in the Arctic. It is not farmed in coastal waters or in cold, deep lakes.
It can be found in a converted pig barn on the Ridgeland Hutterite Colony, less than an hour east of Winnipeg.
For the past six years, under the banner of Ridgeland Aqua Farms, Brothers Peter and Mark Waldner have been producing some of the freshest, cleanest, and most environmentally sound char you can find on the market. And the quality of their fish is only improving.
"We're still making everything work more efficiently and remodelling and redoing things," said owner and operator Peter Waldner. "Just getting our water cleaner, getting it better for the fish, because cleaner water makes better fish."
Arctic char swim in a tank at Ridgeland Aqua Farms. (Mike Green)
And clean it is -- the farm utilizes 20,000 gallons of near pristine water drawn from two wells, 250 feet below the colony.
"Perfect water for char," said Peter. "It's nice and cold. It's clean, there is hardly any rust, and the pH is nice for them."
The scale of the operation is quite something too, as at any given time there are around 180-200,000 char in the nursery section, while the larger fish can number up to 30,000 being raised in batches of 5000.
The char take about four years to reach a size that can be sold at market. As you walk through the aqua farm you can see the progress as four-year-old char splash about in 200 foot long tanks in the front, while smaller tanks hold 2-year-old mid-size char, while the back of the barn houses minnow sized hatchlings which swim about in troughs.
Despite the aqua farm being highly automated - there are numerous filters, oxygen generating machines and radial flow separators to keep the water clean - all the work is done by hand, from collecting the eggs during spawning season, to netting the fish in the runs, to processing the fish into fillets.
"We fillet about 400 to 500 fish every Wednesday," said Peter. "Everything is manual. I do the filleting, a guy beside me does the trimming, and we have one guy who runs the pin-bone machine."
How about that for having a hand in all facets of farming?
The day I was there 200 pounds of char was being shipped to Vancouver, 500 pounds was going to Calgary, and the remaining 300 pounds was staying in Manitoba.
You can buy their char in town at Mariner Neptune, and you can find it at restaurants like Fusion Grill. You can also call the colony to buy it direct.
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