Company hopes to put cod on more tables

Aquaculture Genome Atlantic receives federal funding for cod genomics project

A new research project could make Atlantic Canada a worldwide leader in aquaculture, and have the global community dining on the region's cod.


                                               Steve Armstrong

Genome Atlantic, a company that develops, invests in and manages large-scale gene discovery projects, has just been given $5.8 million in federal funding for their four-year cod aquaculture genomics project, $3 million of which will come from ACOA's Atlantic Innovation Fund.

The company, whose research areas range from aquaculture and agriculture to forestry and human health, has already been given $18 million for a previous cod research project - their Atlantic Cod Genomics and Broodstock Development.

Though it sounds like a lot of money, Genome Atlantic's CEO Steve Armstrong said it's the king of spending needed to keep pace with - or pull ahead of - Norway, which is also pouring money into its aquaculture industry.

"Given the challenges with the global economy right now, to be focused on a sector that's projected to triple by 2030, I believe that the return on investment will be solid," he said.

This new project, taking place in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, will focus on finding a solution to the problem of early maturation among the cod stock.

Early maturation results in a slower growth rate for the fish. That means a longer wait before harvesting, and a lower yield on the actual fillet.

By building on the results of their previous Broodstock project - which used genomics to identify the fastest growing, most disease and temperature resistant fish - researchers hope to avoid early maturation altogether. Using eggs from those elite fish, they'll transition them into sterile eggs and then grow them to maturity.

"It's a nice transition actually, in that the starting project also involving Genome Atlantic, sort of sets the foundation for growth in the industry," Armstrong said. "We're using the study of DNA to identify fish that are the elite performers, and by using those as the parents end up with egg stock that will also be elite performers. That's critical to the economics of the industry expanding the way we would like see."

This economic expansion that Armstrong envisions is ambitious. He's hopeful that over a 10-year period, the region's cod aquaculture could become a $500 million industry, with Atlantic Canada overtaking their Norwegian competition to become a global leader in the supply of cultured cod.

"If you step back and look at the trends in terms of the global population and the global demand for food protein, and given the plateau or decline in the wild fishery, the projections are that aquaculture globally will have to triple by the year 2030," he said. "So, the opportunity for the sector as a whole globally is massive."

Cod is viewed internationally as a premium white fish, and the global market for it is large.

Ultimately, Armstrong said, the region is well positioned to capitalize on that market.

"Given the history in the region, and all of the knowledge and passion for cod in the region, it makes perfect sense for us to be putting the kind of investment that we're putting in right now," he said.

"If we use gene discovery as a way of identifying who the elite performing fish are, imagine how much more profitable it could make those companies, and imagine the economic impact it could create for the region."

Source: Published Monday March 9th, 2009 TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL