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Unique NS Halibut Hatchery Partnering With Dalhousie

Less than 50 days after hatching, their yolk sacs depleted, the larvae – barely recognizable as fish – are completely dependent on the live food that technicians at the site put in their environment.

In the coming months, that food may be an improved version of itself with the help of a new partnership between a Nova Scotia company and a university.

Scotian Halibut, the only commercial halibut hatchery in North America, is entering a partnership with Dalhousie University in an effort to improve its production. It hopes to do that through making changes to the live food it offers baby halibut.

The hatchery is one of 52 businesses taking advantage of the Productivity and Innovation Voucher Program offered through the Nova Scotia Economic Development and Renewal Department.

With the help of the program, the hatchery will be working with the university’s Faculty of Agriculture in Truro. Together they will investigate ways to reduce bacterial counts within the live feed that tiny halibut larvae are given. The larval stage is a critical time in a halibut’s development and the quality of its live feed – tiny brine shrimp – is key. It is at this juncture that the halibut larvae undergo a metamorphosis. Both eyes migrate to one side and they soon display the flattened appearance of adult fish.

The juvenile halibut are eventually weaned off live food and are given high quality feed in pellet form, which they search for at the bottom of their tank. They will grow on this for a few more months until the fish are large enough to be sold to buyers near and far.

The Toonie-sized halibut are extremely valuable and those not sold to grow out sites in Canada are airlifted across the ocean to sites in Scotland and Norway.  There, they will be grown into market-sized fish.

Company representatives say they have no problem finding buyers for as many juvenile halibut they can produce.

The hatchery has been producing more than 100,000 juvenile fish per year. More than half are being exported to Scotland and Norway.

Getting more of the larvae to reach a quality and size where they can be sold is a major goal and the company’s research and development manager, Melissa Rommens, is hopeful the partnership with Dalhousie will be successful.

“If we lessen the bacteria, we improve the health of the larvae and improve our productivity of the hatchery,” she said.