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lake whitefish ontario

Will we ever raise lake whitefish on farms?

We SHORE hope so — there is a big movement in Ontario to figure out how to raise lake whitefish on farms.

This sweet and succulent fish is known to many who live near the Great Lakes, and its mildness makes it a favourite for even non-fish eaters. Why would we farm it?

  1. It’s getting harder every year to find consistent and sustainable sources of lake whitefish in the wild. Raising them on farms can promise a reliable and eco-friendly supply all year long!
  2. Lake whitefish do not need access to the water’s surface to reset their swim bladders like rainbow trout do. This means farmers could submerge them all winter long in net-pens and avoid the risks of ice and weather damaging the nets.
  3. We’ve heard from numerous First Nations in Ontario that they would be interested in starting their own farms to raise lake whitefish (hurray!), as the fish are culturally significant and these communities have seen firsthand the wild stocks in decline.

The challenge for farmers is that every fish species is different, and there is still lots we don’t know about the much-loved lake whitefish.

Over the past 4 years our friends at the Ontario Aquaculture Research Centre have successfully bred, hatched and raised juveniles. The genetics come from wild-caught fish harvested near Killarney and hatched at College Boreal.

And several farmers in Ontario (like us!) have grown them to market size on land-based farms or a pilot floating site in Georgian Bay.

Together, we have proved that raising lake whitefish on farms is possible. Next up we need to prove that it is economically viable.

In the next two years, we’ve volunteered at Springhills to grow more whitefish to understand their production cycle, and hopefully find ways to speed up their growth.

One of the biggest things we need to learn is their diet, so we can create fish feed to help them grow (the poor guys have been eating trout food all this time!).

Then we need to keep experimenting (safely of course!) to understand how things like water temperature, densities, water depth, sunlight and maturation affect how they grow.

Eventually, we hope to put all the pieces together and kickstart a new lake whitefish industry here in Ontario!

But until then, we’ll just keep dreaming of a white(fish) Christmas!

Pictured: A 5-year-old broodstock at the Ontario Aquaculture Research Centre.