BC’s original fish farmers date back to only the mid-1970s and 1980s. The industry was initially experimental in the 1970s becoming an organized industry in BC in the 1980s and marked in 1984 by the formation of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.
Originally, most of B.C.’s salmon farm sites were centered in the Sunshine Coast area, north of Vancouver. Licenses were also issued over the next ten years in the areas of Ocean Falls, Cowichan Bay, Alberni Inlet, Barkley Sound, Indian Arm, Alert Bay, Redonda Island and Tofino. Initial optimism was based on the success of rearing juveniles but the technology for cultivation of adult salmon had yet to be developed. Fish pens were relatively small compared to the systems used on today’s modern farms, and many of the farming practices used today weren’t known back then. On today’s farms, fish are reared in land-based recirculating systems for the first half of their life before being transferred (at a much larger size than in the 1980s) to marine-based farms. The early days of B.C. salmon farming were characterized by many small companies operating one or two farm sites with very little working capital and no ability to get proper financing – it was a challenging business in its infancy.
Salmon farmers in B.C. were true pioneers, developing systems and techniques that were at the leading edge of aquaculture. In the early 1980s, farms were run largely as small-scale operations, with small businesses or even families running individual sites. For the first 15 years of the business the industry didn’t grow very much. Farmers were busy learning how to farm fish: which species were best to farm, how to finance the operations through the two to three year lifecycle, and what the best feeding process was. While many of the company names have changed since the industry’s early days – Globe Sea Farms, Sea Silver Marifarms, Georgia Sea Farms, Suncoast Salmon, Kraft Marifarms, Quartz Bay Sea Farms, Tofino Salmon Farms, SunRay, and Tidal Rush – many of the people involved back then are still actively involved in the industry, working together to ensure that the industry improves and thrives into the future. What was once a small, experimental industry in B.C. has blossomed into the province’s highest-valued agricultural export.