By Staff Writer
C oastal communities on Vancouver Island are rarely in the headlines when it comes to emerging technology. But with BC’s salmon farmers on a relentless drive to get and maintain international gold standards for their operations, several Vancouver Island companies are making a name for themselves globally when it comes to aquaculture technology. “Aquaculture is considered one of the most efficient methods of producing animal protein. Technology has helped make this possible,” said Kurt Lang, Chief Technical Officer for InWater Technologies based in Campbell River.
Together with Stephanie King, a former water quality monitoring expert with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the duo opened their business in 2019. Today have become the go-to guys for when it comes to the design, manufacture and distribution of smart and dependable equipment for industries reliant on water. “The aquaculture industry has changed significantly in 10 years and it is cool to see the effort fish farmers put into data collection and monitoring the environment,” said King, who spent the early years of her career checking on the water around aquaculture sites in Clayoquot Sound. “They do this not just for profitability but also because they care about what is happening in the seas around them.”
The company’s flagship product line is called Point4, a versatile water quality monitoring and control system that has been providing reliable protection to the aquaculture industry for over 30 years. The product line has evolved over the years and is now manufactured by InWater Technologies. “The Point4 systems are rugged, simple to operate and are accompanied by InWater Technologies’ exceptional technical support. These benefits have resulted in the largest commercial Atlantic Salmon producer adopting the Point4 systems for all of their freshwater operations in Western Canada,” said Lang. “We are fortunate to have the salmon farming industry here which gave us a start in this business and continues to support local aquaculture tech companies, especially now during COVID-19,” he said,. “In turn we try and buy everything we need locally, like packaging, even though we can get them cheaper overseas.”
Lang and King pointed to a recent example where a large fish farmer insisted that their technology order placed with an international firm, go through InWater Tech as a show of local support during the pandemic. “They did not have to do this but they did and it gave us the extra financial boost to keep innovating and keep all our local staff employed,” said Lang. “I think a lot of customers are recognizing the value that we bring to them with the tech experience we have gained with the local fish farmers over the last 25 plus years,” added King.
Further up the road from the operations of InWater Technologies is Poseidon Ocean Systems helmed by Campbell River community stalwarts Matt and Heather Clarke. Already a global leader in aquaculture solutions and technology, Poseidon has introduced 15 innovative products over the past few years to address some of the most challenging problems facing the aquaculture industry today. It also has four patents pending for its marine engineering solutions. “We invested heavily in technology and R n D in 2018 and 2019 which has been good for us…our growth trajectory looks at helping fish farmers in Chile and Scotland and we have had some talks with producers in Turkey, who are looking to grow sea trout,” said Heather Clarke, Vice President, Operations of Poseidon Ocean Systems Ltd. “But everything starts here in Campbell River,” she said. Last year the company introduced its Gen IV Life Support System, an aquaculture aeration system specifically designed to minimize the effect of harmful plankton outbreaks and protect fish against hazardous algae blooms.
Like much of other Poseidon tech, which is powered by a team of about 30 people, the Gen IV Life Support System, was developed after years of R&D with local salmon farmers. Poseidon has also developed a net cage system which can withstand strong winds, rough waves and severe storms which can cause costly damage to fish farmers. Called the Trident Hybrid, it allows for the full integration of aquaculture systems, including feed systems, advanced rigging options for smolt, grow-out and predator nets, life support systems, cameras and lighting, mort recovery, and almost any other ancillary aquaculture systems. Cermaq Canada is among the companies that have begun employing this breakthrough in net pen design engineering by Poseidon. “Covid-19 slowed down our international traction because potential customers could not come to Canada to see and feel our technology…but we are ready to grow locally and globally,” said Matt Clarke, Poseidon’s president, who is also part of an independent local business group.
Kevin Onclin, the former CEO and Director of Operations at Badinotti Net Services Canada Ltd. said his company is all about ‘net gains’ for the aquaculture industry. Badinotti has about 130 employees in the North of Vancouver Island, and is primarily focused on net services, to ensure fish farmers meet all the strength and integrity standards to withstand strong weather and maximise the flow of water from smolt to harvest in their operations. “We have been very fortunate that fish farmers have been working through COVID-19, and because of that we as a service company get to keep providing our services,” said Onclin, who now acts as a consultant to the company. In Badinotti’s arsenal of services is an onsite washing protocol, involving specialised state of the art boats and high definition cameras. “While we are washing the nets every seven to 10 days, we are also reviewing the entire surface of the net on an ongoing basis for full traceability and we record all of it so we can identify every single thing about the net and net-integrity. We can sit in the boat and monitor every bit of information…we would know right away if a big storm came along and put a hole in a predator net,” said Onclin.
The company also recently built a massive net wash wall in Campbell River, the largest in the world, to clean larger and heavier nets on land. These larger, heavier and more durable nets provide for more separation in the marine environment between the pens leading to better animal welfare standards. The new wall for the giant nets allows for very efficient pressure washing, repair and disinfection of the nets, said Onclin. The company, he said, is also working on a net disinfection system that will eliminate the reliance on chemicals and heavy freshwater water use. “When this technology is ready we will inform everyone on the findings, what it is and how it works,” said Onclin. “The aquaculture industry has been doing a tremendous amount of work, spending a lot of energy and money with local technology and service companies to raise the bar in fish production…. I think we have all grown toget her and we are engineering for the next 150 years, not just for right now,” he said.
The Campbell River Business Recovery Taskforce in its recent report said salmon farmers purchase supplies and services from 680 vendors like Poseidon, Badinotti and InWater Tech. The independent group estimated annual spending on supplies and services from these local vendors at $132.65 million.