Arctic Char Farming Introduction

About Arctic Char

picture of an arctic char
The Arctic Char dubbed : "Arctic Queen"
Arctic char (also spelled arctic charr) are closely related to both salmon and trout and has many characteristics of both. Individual fish can weigh 20 lbs or more with record sized fish having been taken by angling in Northern Canada. Generally, whole market sized farmed fish are between 2 and 5 lbs in weight.

The flesh color of wild caught char sometimes varies; it can range from a bright red to a pale pink, however most farmed charr are uniform in flesh color, of consistent quality and are available in a variety of forms ranging from whole fish to smoked or secondary processed products .

The Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) has the most northerly distribution of any of the freshwater fish. It is the dominant species of the Arctic coast, and for centuries has been an important food resource of the Inuit. However, only since the late 1940s has it been caught commercially and shipped south to become a gourmet restaurant item in many large North American cities. Recent fisheries statistics indicate that, after the whitefish, it is the second most valuable catch in the Northwest Territories.

The magnificent coloration, excellent quality of flesh, fighting spirit, and relative inaccessibility of this fish has combined to make it a highly desirable quarry for many affluent North American anglers. Unfortunately, increased fishing pressure added to resource development in the Arctic pose a threat to char populations.

Arctic char are a streamlined fish and typically trout like. They belong to the char group of the salmon family and there are two subgroups - a sea-run group and a freshwater or land-locked group. The sea-run fish are larger, commonly weighing 2.3 to 4.5 kg, while the lake dwellers range in weight from 0.2 to 2.3 kg. The largest angled Arctic char on record was caught in Tree River, N.W.T, in 1970 and weighed 12.2 kg.

Arctic Char Aquaculture History

Note: This article was written based upon my experience raising Arctic Char in land based farms using round tanks, rectangular raceways and resource friendly water recirculation aquaculture systems. This section is referenced and quoted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. It can be found here.

arctic char being farmed in circular tanks
Char Ready For Market

Research aimed at determining the suitability of Arctic Char as a cultured (farmed) species began in the late 70’s. The Freshwater Institute of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, in Winnipeg, Manitoba and the Huntsman Marine Science Laboratory of New Brunswick, pioneered the early efforts in Canada.

Arctic Char were first investigated as an aquaculture species because it was expected that they would have low optimum temperature requirements and would grow well at the cold water temperatures present in numerous areas of Canada. It was also expected that Char would be an alternate species to Rainbow Trout and could provide producers with a unique product and a niche in seafood markets.

The initial research efforts concentrated on identifying the culture needs, growth characteristics and performance of Arctic Char in various types of fish farming systems. The Freshwater Institute (D.F.O. Canada) also distributed small batches of char eggs to producers in Canada, these producers in return helped determine the suitability of Char in a commercial setting. Many present day commercial farm breeding stocks have been developed largely from these sources.

Farm production of Arctic Char in Canada is presently emerging beyond the development stage. Individual farmers and companies are raising the fish in Nova Scotia, PEI, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba and the North West Territories. Commercial production is also increasing in Iceland, Norway and other European countries. Estimates are that between 950,000 and 1,300,000 kgs of finished char products were marketed from those sources last year. In the USA Charr farming takes place in the West Virginia and in Washington State.

Why Farm Arctic Char

There are many factors that are influencing farm management decisions to increase or begin Arctic Char farming. These can be summarized as follows:

• There is a strong desire among reputable seafood buyers to have consistent supplies of quality Arctic Char that are available fresh year round. Arctic Char is seen as a gourmet niche seafood product, a unique "sexy" fish with high end market appeal. Catches of wild caught fish are declining and the supply is generally seasonal from fishery sources.

• Existing Market Demand shortfalls. The supply of Arctic Char does not meet the existing volume requirements of the marketplace. At the food service level, chefs often choose it as a better environmental choice than farmed salmon or rainbow trout. In addition as more chefs become familiar with char new demand is being created due to it's unique appeal.

• Acceptable growth performance of Arctic Char in land based farms, that use high rate water recirculation systems has been demonstrated. This factor contributes numerous benefits including maximizing production while reducing the tank space needed, reducing water requirements, reducing effluent and conserving energy by lowering requirements for water temperature control. Less energy is required to maintain water temperatures near optimum levels for best growth.

The above factors combine to create a farm development and market opportunity to produce a product that is in strong demand and known to be a fish species of high regard. The Arctic Char also adapts well to farming in enclosed land based farms, providing the opportunity to reduce resource requirements, create higher security against disease and stock escapement while achieving eco-friendly methods. This section continues on the next page titled Farm attributes of Arctic Char

picture of mature stage arctic char from Fraser river strain
Farm Raised  Mature Arctic Char 

The New England Aquarium lists farm raised Arctic Char as an ocean friendly species. They call it an excellent choice. The following quote is from their website:
Farmed Arctic char is generally very high quality. Do not judge by the color—Arctic char can range from a pale orange-pink to a bright red, depending upon where or how it was raised. Look for Arctic char farmed in Iceland, Norway, Canada or the United States. New England Aquarium Arctic Char Page.

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