Cutting aquaponics costs is more than pot luck | The Fish Site


How’s the project been received by the local community?

The stigma is still there: people have been told for their lifetime that cannabis is a gateway drug and that it’s a narcotic and all of the bad things – reefer madness, whatever. Education is key to us in informing people and now I have my mother using cannabis oil to help with some of her aches and pains. Unless this was a deregulated product, she’d never have considered using it for medicinal benefit in a million years.

But we’re getting more traction every day and in our immediate area, we’re a very accepted part of the community. People see what we’re doing. We’ve had our regional councilors, our regional politicians, the mayor of the city of Hamilton, the city council, the planning and building departments. I have an open-door policy for city and politicians. We’ve had for our neighbors, have had hundreds and hundreds of people through our facility just so people know that we’re not the underworld, illegal-sales kinda people – to show them that we’re not only growing cannabis in a very secure, controlled environment but are also leading-edge industry-wise, using aquaponics as our model. People are blown away. There’s not a tour that comes through that people aren’t. They’ll see the value of what we’re trying to get out there, we’re the only guys in the world doing it.

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Would you consider using cannabis by-products in tilapia feeds?

I guess I would never say never and it’s on our radar to provide our own feed to our fish. My son is talking about raising black soldier fly larvae and other things for fish food but, unfortunately, I don’t have the time or energy and resources to invest in that side of it – maybe that’s one for the future.

In the meantime we’re working very closely with an organic fish-food manufacturer in British Columbia called Taplow Fish Feed and we’re very proud of being able to say that our fish are organic fish because we have no inputs in our system and we’ve developed our own intellectual property for feeding the fish.

Do you source your staff mainly from the aquacultural or the horticultural world?

It’s a blend of both. Because of the unique nature of growing aquaponically, we needed somebody who was savvy in fish and knew fish on an anatomic level, which is Melanie (our manager of aquaponics), who has a master’s degree in environmental science and did her thesis on aquaculture and on fish.

She’s the head of our five-person fish department – we don’t need that many people but we’re training for our satellite-growth model so we need to have experienced people who know this program out in the world as we expand. However, you don’t really need a science background to work with the fish, as we have vets coming here doing analyses on our fish and making sure that our fish are pathogen-free.

From the botanical side, I’ve got a PhD botanist and a very experienced girl out of the high-production greenhouse world.

Where do you source and distribute your tilapia?

We bring our tilapia in at half a gram from AmeriCulture in New Mexico and grow them to approximately 800 grams in eight months. So far all the tilapia we produce go to homeless shelters. Before we donate them we give them a five-day saltwater bath, purge them and don’t feed them to remove the brackish farm taste – that brackish water seems to give them a mushy fillet, but the salt bath keeps them calm and also firms up the fillet, so we’re actually producing a very high-quality organic fillet.

I don’t know how many homeless shelters or how many people are interested, but if I can donate all my fish I absolutely will because I think it’s important for us to help – not just with the medicinal value of this plant but to help feed people as well. Protein is very hard to come by in the shelters and so they love having their fish Fridays. But if I saturate the market with donated fish and people can’t handle it anymore, I’ll start wholesaling some to the grocery chains.

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