Ponds full of fish, water purification devices, automatic feeders… We expect to find these facilities near a watercourse or in the region. But they are in the heart of Montreal, off Highway 40.
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“On the other side of the red line we put on boots and smocks! “says Nicolas Paquin upon our arrival. Co-founder of Opercule, he welcomes us to his well-hidden premises in the basement of La Centrale Agricole, a cooperative in the Saint-Laurent district. The goal: to produce 30 tons of fish per year there.
On site, the man shows us almost a dozen pools. Four of them are currently colonized by arctic char, a freshwater salmonid. They live in the only place in Quebec where urban fish farming is practiced, i.e. raising fish for commercial use in the city.
Around 35,000 fish live here in an environment that aims to be as clean and safe as possible. “We have cameras and a control system that is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” says Mr. Paquin. You can access it from home. And we don’t put antibiotics or growth hormones in the water. Just salt for bacteria. City water is often more aggressive and has fewer pathogens. »
“The pools come from Texas, we have a lot of parts from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and there’s also equipment from Norway and Germany,” he explains, pointing to various machines.
It’s the fun. It’s like a big aquarium. You go to the rhythm of the fish, you watch them swim, you feed them. Between that and answering emails, it’s a different lifestyle.
Nicolas Paquin, co-founder of Opercule
Water is not typically harvested in a traditional fish farm. It is filtered and then released into the environment. Thanks to a combination of machines that form a closed circuit, Opercule manages to use “100 to 200 times” less water than normal. Approximately 6,000 liters of water are circulated per minute, but of this amount only 14 liters per minute are replaced: a recovery rate of approximately 99.8%.
“I’ve always had this ecological fiber,” says Opercule’s other founder, David Dupaul-Chicoine, in a phone interview. “My vision for the company from the beginning was: to have a sustainable development perspective, but real. Not just little dots looking green for good sales. »
In every decision we make, this aspect [environnemental] is very present.
David Dupaul-Chicoine, co-founder of Opercule
Opercule plans to start marketing its products in December.
Still in a green perspective, the company is considering a partnership with La roue libre, a Montreal-based delivery service that uses electric bikes to transport goods. For packaging, Mr. Dupaul-Chicoine is planning an agreement with Quebec company Cascade, which makes recyclable cartons laminated with reflective film.
Montreal, pure coincidence
Originally from Quebec and Montreal respectively, Nicolas Paquin and David Dupaul-Chicoine met at the Quebec School of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Grande-Rivière in Gaspésie. The engineer and the trained musician turned to fish farming together in 2016.
At first they wanted to settle in the area, until they realized that Montreal had the ideal setting for a fish farm.
“A watershed with no excess phosphorus, a water treatment plant, proximity to restaurants. Every time we had a problem, Montreal solved it,” says Nicolas.
Laying the groundwork for the project proved to be a lengthy process. They first ran a small pilot project in David’s garage before moving into the premises where they currently reside in 2019.
In January 2021, the duo received their permits and subsidies from the Quebec Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In November he received the first fish eggs.
“I find the upcoming marketing exciting but also a bit stressful. […] We see something growing,” concludes David.
- From 600 to 900 tons
- Annual production volume that Opercule is aiming for in the long term. For this it is necessary to move. But it’s not for now.