Addressing Concerns for Water Quality Impacts
from Large-Scale Great Lakes Aquaculture

Based on a Roundtable
Co-hosted by the Habitat Advisory Board of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission
the Great Lakes Water Quality Board of the International Joint Commission

August, 1999


Expected Growth of Aquaculture: Ontario's Experience
by Ken Linington, Steve Naylor, and Lorne Widmer
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, 1 Stone Rd W, Guelph, ON N1G 4Y2


In Ontario, fish culture has been practiced since the turn of the 20th century by the provincial government, mainly for lake and stream stocking. Fish culture remained exclusively a government endeavour until 1962 when changes to Ontario's Game and Fish Act allowed the private sector to raise and sell rainbow and brook trout for human consumption or for stocking purposes, and smallmouth and largemouth bass for stocking only. Since then, the commercial aquaculture industry has grown. In 1995, regulatory changes were made to make over 40 species eligible for aquaculture in Ontario. In 1997, 3,725 tonnes of trout were produced in approximately 200 facilities with a farm gate value of about $16 million (Cdn.)(Moccia and Bevan 1998).

Currently, rainbow trout accounts for over 95% of the production output from Ontario aquaculture. Other species such as tilapia, arctic char, baitfish, and bass are also produced commercially. Most aquaculture facilities are located in southern and central Ontario, though there has been expansion in northern Ontario, particularly in the waters of Georgian Bay.

The province has a number of competitive advantages to expand the industry in the near future. Whether or not this potential is achieved will depend on various factors, including government regulatory action, investments by the private sector, currency exchange rates and competition from other jurisdiction.

Growth Potential of Ontario's Aquaculture Industry

Factors supporting growth in Ontario's aquaculture industry include:

Potential by Species

Many salmonid species have been cultured in Ontario over the past decade. Species such as Atlantic, Chinook, and Coho salmon have little production potential in Ontario because of the low cost of production from cage farms in the marine environment. Brook and brown trout will have a continuing demand for pond stocking and fishing clubs. The two species of salmonids with strong growth potential are rainbow trout and Arctic char.

Rainbow trout will continue to be the mainstay of Ontario's aquaculture production over the next decade. A large potential market for fresh Ontario rainbow trout boneless fillets exists within the north-eastern and north-central United States. Increases in Ontario's trout production will come from new cage culture sites and from pump-ashore systems. In the near future, the private sector will be cautious in developing new cage culture sites until the policy and regulatory environment becomes clearer.

Several groups are currently investigating large-scale, pump-ashore production systems. These land-based raceway or circular tank systems are located beside a large body of surface water and pump large volumes of water through the production systems. Opportunities also exist for production of rainbow trout in land-based production systems diverting water from streams dammed for power generation, generally located in northern Ontario. Under optimum conditions the rainbow trout industry in Ontario could double production within the next 5 years. This could result in the creation of 200 direct and indirect jobs.

Arctic char production in Ontario has gradually increased since culture of these species by the private sector was allowed in 1995. Arctic char is a relatively new species in the market place and because of the supply-limited situation, it commands a premium price, typically one and a half times the wholesale price of trout.

Two factors have limited the rapid growth of the Arctic char farming industry in Ontario. Reproductive efficiency has been lower than experienced for the domesticated trout species and the private sector has been unable to get licenses to culture char at new locations because of concerns over escapement. Nevertheless, the production of char was about 114 tonnes in 1998 with significant increases expected in 1999 due to two large Arctic char production facilities coming on-line in Northern Ontario.

The production of non-salmonid species for food was not allowed until regulatory changes to the Game and Fish Act in 1995. Changing demographics in the Greater Toronto Area over the past decade have provided a tremendous increase in the demand for live non-salmonid fish. Recent surveys of some of the fish importers has revealed that live fish imports from aquaculture producers in the United States exceeds 10,000 tonnes annually. There are significant opportunities for fish farmers in Ontario to displace some of the imports from the United States. Given the current Free Trade environment and the free movement of live non-salmonids across the border, the exchange rate will continue to have an influence on the cost competitiveness of imports and exports from and to the United States. Non-salmonid species that offer increased production potential in Ontario include: tilapia, striped bass, largemouth bass, yellow perch, walleye, and white sturgeon.


There are significant opportunities for Ontario's aquaculture industry in the next decade. Ontario has abundant supplies of high quality water, ready access to large domestic markets, and a well-developed industrial infrastructure. With the current favourable exchange rates for exports, Ontario is in the enviable position to take advantage of the large markets for boneless trout fillets in the north eastern and north central United States. Other species also show growth potential. Under optimal conditions, Ontario's total aquaculture production could reach 11,000 tonnes in five years.


Moccia, R.D. and D.J. Bevan. 1998. Aquastats 1997. University of Guelph.