Yukon fish farm experiments with all-female stock

Icy Waters fish farm in Whitehorse is running a research project that results in only female Arctic char being born.
Icy Waters manager Jonathan Lucas with some of the Arctic char fishtanks. (Philippe Morin photo)

A fish farm in Whitehorse is part of a new research project into breeding a stock of Arctic char that is all female.

Jonathan Lucas, the manager at Icy Waters, said it’s already common practice for cows and pigs on farms as well as some other species of farmed fish. This is the first time it's being done with Arctic char.

The fish farm has 220,000 thousand fish in its tanks and another 600,000 in the hatchery. The facility was established in 1985 and so far has been raising a mix of male and female char.

Lucas said if the test project is a success, nearly all of the fish hatched at his fish farm could be females, except for a few males kept seperately for breeding.

He said the research, being done in partnership with Simon Fraser University, will take a few years to determine how the all-female fish grow and behave.

"Can I say this, males are really quite useless most of the time," Lucas joked. "They tend to fight they tend to mature early, and they'll stop growing at about half a pound, three quarters of a pound, and mature. And that's not what we need, we need fish to mature at about three pounds," he said.

The fish tanks at Icy Waters hold hundreds of thousands of Arctic char. (Philippe Morin photo)

Lucas said Arctic char females are bigger than males and are also better at resisting disease and temperature changes.

The gender selection is done by mixing a type of additive during artificial insemination, he added.

"That knocks out the male sperm, and you only get the female offspring. We're just experimenting with that at the moment. That's been done with pigs, cattle and horses and sheep with a 100 per cent effectiveness," he said. Icy Waters facility raises Char in outdoor tanks where the fish live year-round, even through Yukon winters. The farm produces 200 metric tonnes of fish a year and sells its product to customers as far as Australia.