B.C. fish farmer bets on white sturgeon
When Target Marine purchased a fish farm in Sechelt, British Columbia, in 1994, the company’s four owners thought they would be farming black cod (sablefish) and coho, chinook and Atlantic salmon. It was before the days of consolidation in the salmon-farming industry and at the time, British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast boasted around 60 salmon farms.
Consolidation over the following 15 years reduced the number of independently owned salmon farms considerably and it made sense to consider farming another species of fish. Target Marine chose the white sturgeon, obtaining native Fraser River stock from the University of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. With the help of scientists at the University of California-Davis, they learned how to spawn the fish and began raising them in Sechelt starting in 2000.
“Other aquaculture companies couldn’t see the value in sturgeon because the cycle of the fish from birth to maturity seemed too long,” says Justin Henry, Target Marine’s general manager. “But we saw the value. We carried on growing salmon smolts on a contract basis and decided to focus mostly on sturgeon.”
For the past century the majority of the world’s caviar has come from Caspian Sea sturgeon. But with the fall of the Soviet Union, those sturgeon stocks collapsed, declining by more than 90 percent in the last two decades, according to Henry. “We knew it would take a long time for those fish to recover.”
While sturgeon farmers in California and Italy are farming Siberian sturgeon, which can be grown to produce caviar in just four years, Target Marine chose white sturgeon, which takes at least 11 years to mature.
“Here in B.C., we had an opportunity with the Fraser River stock of white sturgeon, which no one else in the world is culturing,” he explains. “This species grows to between 100 and 125 kilograms, and we believe it develops eggs in the long run that will prove to be a higher quality of caviar.”