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Another kettle of fish

Cooke Aquaculture

In the fifteenth-century, explorer John Cabot was said to have scooped fish out of North Atlantic waters with baskets, so plentiful were they.

But today, wild fisheries cannot keep up with high consumer demand and roughly half of all seafood eaten by people worldwide is farmed. 

And that’s where one family-run, New Brunswick-based aquaculture company has stepped up to meet global needs—revitalizing rural communities in the process.

In 1985, brothers Michael and Glenn Cooke together with their father Gifford started Cooke Aquaculture in St. George with a single marine cage site containing 5,000 salmon. Today, the company operates in all four Atlantic Provinces, the state of Maine and in Chile.

With more than 2,000 full-time employees, Cooke now processes and sells more than 115 million pounds of Atlantic salmon and 35 million pounds of trout annually to North American markets.

One of the advantages of this important sector to the Atlantic region is employment in rural areas.

“In Harbour Breton, Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, the fish processing plant had closed and people were leaving,” says Nell Halse, Cooke’s vice president of communications. “After reopening the fish plant, new houses, new roads and stores started opening. And in nearby St. Alban’s, we’ll soon be opening a state-of-the-art salmon hatchery that will supply NL fish farms and make our NL operations self-sufficient.”

Helping communities prosper while meeting consumer demand is a source of pride for Cooke. So is their commitment to making their operations as green as possible.

In fact, the company’s efforts to ensure a diverse marine ecosystem made them North America’s first farmed salmon company to be added to the Seafood Trust Certified Eco-Label in 2008.

And their commitment to research and development keeps them looking for better processes, including a concept called integrated multi-trophic aquaculture.

“Raising different species together allows the nutrients created by one species to be food for the others. We reduce the impact on the environment and still produce quality products,” Nell explains.  The process is being tested at a number of Cooke’s salmon farms and was featured on CBC television’s The Nature of Things in 2009.

Nell says ACOA’s support was absolutely critical to Cooke’s success, especially in the early years when financing was difficult. 

 “When it comes to innovation, the Agency shares our vision and supports our efforts.  Through the Atlantic Innovation Fund and the Business Development Program, they’ve contributed and are true partners in our success.”

But when that success includes Cooke’s adherence to strict international standards of quality, traceability and sustainable production methods, well, that’s a whole other kettle of fish in today’s booming seafood industry.

Published July 4, 2011