Swimming Upstream

Grieg Seafood
Written by Paul Hutchings

If a seafood processing company is going to select a locale for expansion, it probably couldn’t pick one better than Newfoundland and Labrador.

The history of Canada’s most easterly province is centred around the fishing industry, whether codfish in the Grand Banks or shellfish in its various bays. Early European explorers would report to their royals that one could practically walk across the water because there were so many codfish, and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have become synonymous with the fishing industry.

It is a big reason why Grieg Seafood chose Newfoundland to expand its salmon farming operations in 2014. Setting up in Marystown, on the island’s Burin Peninsula was a natural choice, given the centuries of fishing experience from the residents. You go where the work experience is, and seven years later, company representatives Kristen Anstey and Andrew Tucker say it is obvious that Grieg chose the right place to do business.

Utilizing some of the most state-of-the-art facilities, Grieg Seafood Newfoundland raises salmon for markets in Canada and the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, and the methods are almost the stuff of science fiction. They raise the fish from the egg right to adulthood, after eggs are shipped in from Benchmark Genetics Iceland and incubated in temperature-controlled units. After the fish hatch, they are transferred to large, freshwater tanks, where they remain until they reach five grams in weight.

To prepare for life in seawater, the young salmon are transferred to the smoltification building where they undergo this transformation of smoltification and prepare for life in salt water. After smoltification and once the fish have reached 50 grams, they are transferred again to the largest facility for continued growout in saltwater until they are transferred to sea cages to complete the last 16 months of their growth. The process is designed to imitate the salmon’s natural habitat, and that is important, according to Grieg Seafood Newfoundland aquaculture technician Andrew Tucker.

“Salmon need a system that is as close to their natural environment as possible,” he said. “As compared to other species, they can be difficult to work with, and it’s very important to have the best and most specialized system possible to make them grow.”

As businesses go, this is an interesting one. There are not many others that have to worry that a finicky fish may spit out food it does not like but that happens, said Tucker.

“You can actually see them spit out food that isn’t palatable to them. They’ll just spit it out and swim away, and we need them to eat,” he said. “So, they require particular feed, and they can be very sensitive to extreme water conditions.”

He added that this is a very challenging process because it is one that completely changes the fish’s internal anatomy. Employees have to watch salt levels constantly and maintain all the mineral levels to transform these fish throughout their lives.

When fish farming became popular a couple of decades ago, it was met with some concern for the environmental impact. Tucker says Grieg Seafood Newfoundland does everything it can to be as sustainable as possible and likes to show off the sustainable part of aquaculture. Its facilities use recirculated water with what it calls a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) that reuses the same water repeatedly, using treatment and biofilters to reduce the amount of waste and reduce the water used. Workers also treat the solid wastes that are produced from the fish themselves. The collected waste is treated to be redistributed as fertilizer or compost additive for other areas of agriculture. This results in very little waste from the operations as even the product that are considered waste can be used in other industries..

It all seems like a lot of effort just to get a food source that ideally, we should be able to get with a rod and reel, right? Actually, in most areas, those days are gone. Sure, you can still take the kids on a weekend fishing excursion, but the Global Aquaculture Alliance stated recently on its website that, by 2030, approximately sixty-two percent of all seafood produced for human consumption will come from aquaculture. When the alliance stated that a year and a half ago, the current number was fifty percent.

With a number like that, spanning all ocean species, one would have to wonder why Grieg would just stick with salmon only. “There are examples of integrated farms, especially in Asian countries,” said Tucker, “but with salmon, they’re a difficult species, and we need to be able to have the most specialized and best system to make them grow.”

Grieg Seafood is based in Norway and is one of the world’s leading salmon farming companies. The company has a worldwide target for this year of 80,000 harvested tons of product and an annual 130,000 tons by2025. Grieg’s aquaculture farms are also in operation in British Columbia, as well as Shetland in the UK and Finnmark and Rogaland in Norway. The company employs more than nine hundred people worldwide.

Grieg got its start in the early 1990s by Norwegian entrepreneur Per Greig Jr. and the shipping-based Grieg family in Western Norway. A look through the company’s website shows a community-based approach to its operations around the world and at home in Newfoundland. Kristin Anstey, Grieg Seafood’s human resources advisor in Newfoundland, said the company is taking on charitable challenges to support the area community.

“We like to do everything local as much as possible, a lot of our workers are from Newfoundland originally,” she said. “We do a lot of donations with the local hospital and fundraisers with the local community, and we’ll try and partner with local businesses as much as possible to try and bring business to them.”

Grieg in Newfoundland recently worked with the local food bank in its Marystown location to put more product on its shelves. It has also collected items for a local women’s shelter and put recycling proceeds toward the area hospital.

“We’ve done a lot, and we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished,” she said. “We strive to do the best we can and to bring quality to our community, and we just hope that what we do helps the community. We’ll keep trying to do our best.”

Like most small areas, community is important in Newfoundland and Labrador. In recent years, the province has seen an outward migration of its young people, as they find career opportunities in places like Alberta and Ontario. Anstey said she is proud of what Grieg represents in terms of the local job market.

“I really think that this project is good for [this area],” she said. “It’s creating jobs, and it’s attracting youth and young families to the area. We’re an ageing population, but the sea is starting to flourish again and bring the youth back home.”

Anstey is proof of this. She is from Marystown and moved away for her education in the United States and Europe. Like many young Newfoundlanders, she never thought she would work at home ever again, but jumped at the chance when Grieg came calling, and she realized where the opportunity was.

Of the Marystown location’s salmon, about seventy percent will likely end up in Boston and New York. Plans are underway to utilize a local processing facility in the nearby town of St. Lawrence, where the local population has every bit as much experience in fisheries, for the salmon once harvesting begins.

Tucker does not see much in the way of expansion for Grieg in Marystown, except for another building to add further smoltification utility to further the salmon’s development. He said what puts Grieg above the competition is having advanced technology that rivals any similar aquaculture business in North America and having one of the largest land-based facilities.

But Tucker said that competition is not much of an issue. Aquaculture “is not that competitive,” he said with a smile over video chat. “The industry works together a lot. We collaborate to make it better for everyone. I think that’s better for all of us.”

And should you be looking for a recipe, try marinating the salmon in equal parts brown sugar and soy sauce overnight, with a touch of lemon pepper on the fillets. It is fantastic.



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