Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Aquaculture in Atlantic Canada

A salmon farm
Photo Credit: Cyr Couturier, MUN Marine Institute


A decade ago, world-renowned management expert and Nobel Laureate Peter Drucker, stated that aquaculture, not the Internet, was his choice for the growth industry of the next 30 years.

It's no wonder. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, aquaculture's share of global seafood consumption increased from 3% in 1950 to more than 50% in 2010. At the current rate of per capita consumption (16 kg per year), there is a projected shortfall of 50 to 80 million tonnes of food fish by 2030, and with capture volumes expected to remain stable, the global aquaculture industry will make up this shortfall, doubling output in the next 25 years.[1][2]

And this doesn't take into account the tremendous nutraceutical potential for fish oil or mineral supplement production from finfish or shellfish. Numerous studies have confirmed the positive health effects of omega-3 oils found in fish. In 2010, over $1 billion in fish oil supplements were sold in the U.S. alone, up from $35 million in 1995.

Dietary guidelines for North Americans, published by the USDA as well as in the Canada Food Guide from Health Canada, recommend at least two servings of oily fish per week in a healthy, balanced diet. This alone represents at least a doubling of the current North American consumption habits of seafood.

There are over 70 aquatic species licensed for farming in Atlantic Canada. According to Statistics Canada (2010), the bulk of the production value is made up of Atlantic salmon (85%), mussels (9%) and oysters (3%), with a dozen other species making up the difference (3%).

The Atlantic provinces lead the development of many of the alternate emerging species.

The opportunity is significant.

Companies operating in Atlantic Canada are well positioned to seize this opportunity. No other global location offers such a wide range of benefits. No other location offers such a high quality growing environment.

Atlantic Canada's aquaculture producers benefit from:

  • very strong industry growth – over 400% growth in aquaculture production since 1989;
  • close proximity to two of the largest markets for fresh fish products in the world – North America and Europe;
  • ideal environmental conditions, with over 40,000 kilometres of coastline with cool, pristine growing waters;
  • one of the lowest business cost environments in the G7 countries (KPMG Competitive Alternatives 2010);
  • a broad network of support firms – from industry suppliers to expert consultants to world-class research and development facilities; and
  • strong government support across the region.

Located on the eastern coast of Canada, the four Atlantic provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island combined are a leading global location for aquaculture production.

A leading location poised for growth.

About 50% of Canada's aquaculture production originates in Atlantic Canada and there is ample room to double or triple its output. Two thirds (65%) of the current volume consists of finfish such as salmon and trout, and one third (33%) consists of shellfish such as mussels and oysters (Statistics Canada, 2010).

A school of fish
Photo Credit: Cyr Couturier, MUN Marine Institute 

On the Grow

The fishing and seafood industry has been a vital part of the Atlantic Canadian economy since Canada's beginnings.

Today, the industry remains one of the most important to the region, employing about 35,000 people and generating over $2.5 billion in annual exports.

However, realizing the need to reduce pressure on wild fish stocks, governments and industry in Atlantic Canada became pioneers in the emerging aquaculture industry in the 1980s, beginning with the farming of salmon and mussels and evolving to a broad range of species, including oysters, trout, halibut, sturgeon and seaweeds.

The total value of aquaculture production in Atlantic Canada has risen steadily since its beginnings in the 1980s and reached $344 million in 2009. The volume of production increased from 11,000 tonnes to almost 69,000 tonnes from 1989 to 2009. There are in excess of 500 farms employing 4,000 people in support of the aquaculture sector in Atlantic Canada (Gardner Pinfold, 2010).

And the outlook for the future is bright. A report prepared for the Government of Canada, based on the advice of industry experts, found that the total tonnage of Canadian aquaculture production could increase over 400% by 2015 if market, regulatory and financing conditions were favourable. Historically, Atlantic Canada has represented about one half of Canada's aquaculture industry, so there is still potential for the region's industry to grow.

In addition to the more traditional aquacultures, there is an opportunity for alternate species such as sturgeon, char, halibut and cod to be developed, and for the application of new offshore aquaculture production.

And Atlantic Canada is looking for partners to share in the success of the industry.

Aquaculture exports from Atlantic Canada have increased tremendously, from about $40 million in 1994 to over $150 million in 2009 (Statistics Canada, 2010). Proximity to markets and untapped potential for growth suggest a positive future for the industry.

A cargo ship at a port

Gateway to the North American Market

Atlantic Canada is uniquely positioned as a major gateway to the North American market.

Each year, over $2.5 billion of some of the highest quality processed fish and aquaculture products in the world are exported from Atlantic Canada to the U.S. On average, over $5 million worth of fish products is shipped to the U.S. from Atlantic Canada every day of the year. Most of Atlantic Canada's exports in fish and seafood have been directed to the eastern and New England states. However, over the past few years, exports to California, Florida and the Midwest have increased significantly.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

As Atlantic Canada supplies less than 5% of the total market for fish products in the U.S., there is still much room for growth.

The North American Free Trade Agreement provides significant advantages for investors through access to one of the largest markets in the world for fish products. The combined North American market has a consumer base of 425 million people and total consumer sales in excess of US$900 billion annually.

And there are opportunities for export around the globe. Farmed seafood exports from Atlantic Canada to Europe and Asia – mainly in China, Taiwan and Japan – are steadily climbing. Mussel exports to China, for example, have increased over 400% from 2008 to 2010.

Atlantic Canada offers deep-sea ports, international airports, rail service and specialized trucking to get fish products to market as efficiently as possible.

For the more than 200 million people living in eastern North America, Atlantic Canada has a five-to eight-day transportation advantage over Chile, Australia, Norway and other sources of farmed fish. This means fish remain fresh longer and transportation costs are reduced. Freshness is a strong competitive advantage for the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry, as is year-round availability for consumers.[3][4]

Various bar and pie charts on a clipboard

Competitive Business Costs

Atlantic Canada offers the most competitive business cost environment among G7 countries.

In the 2010 edition of Competitive Alternatives: KPMG's Guide to International Business Costs, Atlantic Canadian cities ranked among the lowest cost locations for all industries reviewed. On average, location-sensitive costs (those that vary based on where a facility is located) were lower in Atlantic Canada than in the average U.S. or other city of comparable size.

In addition, Atlantic Canada offers lower corporate tax rates than many U.S. and European locations and one of the most generous research and development incentive programs of any G7 country.

In most areas of the aquaculture industry there are no restrictions on foreign investment. Many coastal communities welcome new investment to diversify and enhance their economies. As a result, dozens of communities are now enjoying renewed economic growth from fish and shellfish farming. The Atlantic provinces are aggressively prospecting for new investment in aquaculture.

Because of the growth of the aquaculture industry, Atlantic Canada boasts a wide network of suppliers and service providers for the industry, including feedstock, farm supplies, specialized services and consulting, all located in the region and all offering their products and services at highly competitive rates.

The facts speak for themselves.

Atlantic Canadian aquaculture companies are leaders in sustainability, from continuous improvements in production to community engagement to environmental certification on the global stage.

Woman holding a large fish in water
Photo Credit: Cyr Couturier, MUN Marine Institute

The Workforce

Over 4,000 people are employed directly or indirectly in the aquaculture sector in Atlantic Canada.

Because of the size and scope of the industry, there are hundreds of specialized industry experts, including senior managers, nutritionists, fish health specialists/veterinarians, quality assurance managers and production managers. Moreover, over 75% of employees in the region's industry are under the age of 40, energetic, highly skilled and motivated. Women figure prominently in the sector, accounting for 40% of those employed.[5][6][7]

Educated and dedicated: Atlantic Canada has the type of employees you want!

The Atlantic region has a proven fish processing capacity and a supply of skilled industry professionals. There are over 26,000 post-secondary graduates every year in the region from community colleges and universities.[8]

Seven universities and five community colleges offer individual courses and programs relevant to the aquaculture industry. At the college level, technical diplomas as well as short courses are offered.

The Atlantic Canadian workforce is known for its dedication and commitment, as well as its low turnover and absenteeism rates. On average, employees in Atlantic Canadian firms stay with their employers 75% longer than do American employees. Among the G7 countries, Canada has the most competitive labour costs, which include salaries as well as wages and benefits, according to the KPMG Competitive Alternatives (2010).

In addition, payroll taxes are lower in Canada than in other G7 countries, and Canada's universal health coverage reduces the need for basic private health insurance.

Specialized program offerings in aquaculture in Atlantic Canada:

  • New Brunswick Community College, St. Andrews, N.B. – one-year aquaculture technician program.
  • Le Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick, Caraquet, N.B. – three-year diploma of technology in aquaculture.
  • Nova Scotia Agricultural College, Truro, N.S. – B.Sc. Agriculture (Aquaculture Specialization).
  • Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University, St. John's, N.L. – Advanced Diploma in Sustainable Aquaculture and Master of Technology Management (Aquaculture).
  • Memorial University, St. John's, N.L. – Master of Science in Aquaculture.
  • University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, P.E.I. – aquatic veterinary medicine.
  • Canadian Aquaculture Institute, Charlottetown, P.E.I. – continuing education in fish health.
A scientist looks at a collection of beakers

The Cluster

A "cluster" is a geographical concentration of industries that gain performance advantages through co-location.

The aquaculture industry in Atlantic Canada is such a cluster. There are some 700 organizations offering products and services to the industry, ranging from fish farming equipment to feedstock to innovative research services. For example, there are over 100 firms offering specialized consultation, environmental products and services to the industry.

Supply and distribution chains for seafood products are in place. Transportation links already exist.

Throughout Atlantic Canada, the industry is served by five provincial associations that provide advocacy, networking, training, and research and development (R&D) coordination and support. The region is also an important location for access to fisheries- and aquaculture-related research as more than 30 organizations offer R&D services for aquaculture across Atlantic Canada.

Nationally, the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance is an organization that represents the business interests of Canadian aquaculture operators, feed companies and suppliers as well as provincial finfish and shellfish aquaculture associations that serve as advocates for Canadian aquaculture interests in relation to federal government policy and programs. The Aquaculture Association of Canada supports the study of aquaculture, and related sciences, gathers and disseminates information related to aquaculture and creates public awareness and understanding of the industry.

Specialized research centres for aquaculture are affiliated with several Atlantic Canadian universities, including Memorial University's Ocean Sciences Centre, the Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development at the Marine Institute of Memorial University, the Coastal Zones Research Institute of the Université de Moncton, and the Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Atlantic Canada's Aquaculture Industry Associations

  • Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia
  • Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association
  • Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association
  • Prince Edward Island Aquaculture Alliance
  • Professional Shellfish Growers Association of New Brunswick

Man examines a small beaker of red liquid

The Government-Industry Partnership

The Government of Canada, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and other federal departments and agencies, is a major supporter of the development and growth of the aquaculture sector in Atlantic Canada.

Access to Support

The Government of Canada provides R&D funding and environmental support as well as promotion of the sector for both trade and investment opportunities.

The four Atlantic provincial governments of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador are also cultivating the growth of this vital economic engine by providing technical expertise and support, export development services, access to capital, and investment prospecting initiatives. Each Atlantic province has a network of aquaculture health diagnostics and support services for the sector to facilitate health management, trade and seafood movement around the country and abroad.

The National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program is also a key partner providing research funding and support. The Farm Credit Corporation is an important financing partner offering loans, insurance and venture capital to the industry.

Quality Assured

Canada's fish inspection and control system contributes to our worldwide reputation for safe, wholesome fish and seafood products. The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point-based Quality Management Program, monitored by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, ensures that fish and seafood from Canada meet global standards.

The Government of Canada has established the National Aquatic Animal Health Program (NAAHP), which will protect the health of Canadian aquatic animals using scientifically-validated monitoring and surveillance programs. The NAAHP will enable Canadian trade in seafood products to improve while protecting our natural resources.

The Canadian aquaculture industry is currently developing a comprehensive National Traceability Program capable of monitoring the Canadian aquaculture production/processing chain from brood stock to point-of-sale. This will provide buyers and consumers with even greater assurance of the safety and high quality of Canadian aquaculture products.

When you invest in Atlantic Canada's aquaculture industry, you have a partner in both the provincial and federal governments.

In addition to their regulatory roles, no less than 10 federal and provincial agencies and departments are engaged in aquaculture support, research and development initiatives, and market access programs in Atlantic Canada. These private-public partnerships ensure the sector has the tools to advance in a sustainable, socio-economic and environmentally responsible manner.

Man working on a dock
Photo Credit: Cyr Couturier, MUN Marine Institute

The Opportunity

The Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry benefits from:

  • an ideal climate and environmental conditions;
  • high quality farmed fish and shellfish products;
  • a competitive business environment;
  • proximity to the lucrative North American market;
  • an industry with 30 years experience in aquaculture development and management;
  • innovative approaches to fish farming and alternate species development; and
  • strong potential for expansion.

The time to invest in the successful and growing aquaculture industry in Atlantic Canada is now. Whether you want to develop a joint venture with one of the more than 200 firms already active in the sector or establish your own fish farming operation in Atlantic Canada, your company will reap these benefits and more.

When you invest in Atlantic Canada's aquaculture industry, you are joining a broad cluster of farmers, value-added processors, R&D organizations, suppliers and equipment manufacturers – a proven industry with the potential and desire for growth.

Opportunities exist for new investment in salmon, mussels, oysters, as well as alternate species such as halibut, sturgeon and char. In addition, there is significant potential to advance new technologies and alternative production methods such as open-ocean aquaculture production.

The opportunities are vast. The potential is great.Now is the time to take a closer look at aquaculture in Atlantic Canada.

Atlantic Canada is the fastest growing region for aquaculture in Canada, with production at about 50% of the national total in 2010 and annual growth expected to be in the double digits over the next four to five years.[9][10]

Aquaculture in Atlantic Canada


ACOA logo and the Symbol of the Government of Canada

Catalogue number: AC5-18/2011E-PDF ISBN: 978-1-100-19852-1 ACOA: 2011-12

[1] FAO Global Aquaculture Production Statistical Database 
[2] FAO 2010. State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. FAO Rome, Italy
[3] North American Fresh Mussel Market Survey 2008, conducted by Ipsos Reid for NAIA 
[4] Attitudes of Consumers Towards Farmed Atlantic Salmon 2010, conducted by Environics for CAIA 
[5] DFO, 2011. Aquaculture Facts and Figures. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa, Ont. 
[6] Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council, 2011. Labour Market Information for Canadian Agriculture. Ottawa, Ont.
[7] Statistics Canada, 2010. Canadian Aquaculture Statistics, Cat. 23-222-XWE, Ottawa, Ont
[8] Gardner Pinfold. 2010, The Economic Impact of Universities in the Atlantic Provinces – The Current View 2006-2008. Completed for the Association of Atlantic Universities, Halifax, N.S.  
[9] Statistics Canada, 2010. Canadian Aquaculture Statistics, Cat. 23-222-XWE, Ottawa, Ont
[10] Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2011. Seafood Industry in Review 2010. Fisheries and Aquaculture, St. John's, N.L.