Nfld. & Labrador

Hope fades for future of cod farming

Unlike salmon farming, which is thriving, cod aquaculture has never really taken off in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Initial promise has not been reflected in results over the decades

Jonathan Moir is co-owner of one of the last cod farms left in the province, the Newfoundland Cod Broodstock Company. (CBC)

Unlike salmon farming, which is thriving, cod aquaculture has never really taken off in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Jonathan Moir is co-owner of the Newfoundland Cod Broodstock Company in Bay Bulls — one of the last cod farms left in the province.

"It’s been a very, very challenging process," Moir told CBC News.

"There have always been some doubts, and the doubts have become much more pronounced in the last two or three years."

With the effect of the cod moratorium sinking in, much hope — and money — was put into the cod farming industry.

In the past decades, tens of millions of dollars were spent on pilot projects and research, for something that was seen as a new economic opportunity for the province.

But the initiative encountered multiple speed bumps. And interest in developing the industry is now drying up.

Miranda Pryor is executive director of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association. (CBC)

The Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association was once a driving force to develop the cod farming market.

"There was a lot of hope," NAIA executive director Miranda Pryor said. "There was a lot of thought that cod could really be the next big species for Newfoundland in particular, because we have such a strong history of cod, of the wild populations of cod, and a really strong culture with cod."

Pryor says the return of wild cod stock in other parts of the world and growing seafood markets have put cod farming efforts on hold.

"There’s so much white-fleshed fish on the marketplace right now that there wasn’t a place for farmed product," she said.

Researchers also found that cod is difficult to raise. The fish grow slowly and can chew through their nets and escape. Developing the right kind of food has also been a challenge.

Still, scientists say it's important to keep up the research.

"There’s initial momentum that’s been developed," said Dr. Ian Fleming of Memorial University’s Ocean Sciences Centre.

"There’s broodstocks that have been developed that are disease-resistant, that have rapid growth rate. So it would be awful to lose that momentum and investment simply because right now there isn’t the market appeal."

But Pryor insists the work done has not been in vain.

"Aquaculture is the fastest growing food source now in the world, so there may indeed be [use for it]," Pryor said.

"We certainly still hold some hope that we can farm cod in the future."

As for Moir, he has other plans for now.

But he's not giving up on cod farming just yet.

"At some point, we hope it will happen," Moir said. "Sometimes it takes a long time to do these things ... Sometimes it never happens."