Fight on, char lovers. All is not lost!
Many of you are already aware what occurred at Cascade Aquafarms in Washington State in mid-January of this year. A series of landslides, triggered by heavy rains, roared out of the logging areas near Winlock, WA, and devastated the facilities at Cascade. The mud interrupted the circulation of the water supply, rendering the farm’s waters hypoxic and thus toxic to the fish that lived in it.
In a matter of hours, 250,000 arctic char suffocated.
Cascade Aquafarms lost about 800,000 pounds of arctic char in one day. Much of the char had been slated to travel to Whistler, BC for the upcoming Winter Olympics. This cost Brian Mencke, the proprietor and visionary behind Cascade (which had hitherto been North America’s largest arctic char farm) over $500,000.
Cascade is a FishWise producer partner and an extremely valuable resource to those retailers and consumers struggling to find eco-friendly alternatives to farmed salmon. I spoke to Brian at length about this tragedy, and was surprised by how optimistic he seemed. “We’re rebuilding the whole farm underground,” he said, “so this can’t ever happen again. We have hatchlings at [the hatchery], they’re still ok. But we won’t have char ready for market for another two years.”
So what do we do in the interim?
Arctic char is nearly a magic bullet answer to the farmed salmon problem. With its beautiful red flesh, competitive price point, and a closed-containment production method that is light-years ahead of traditional salmon farms, arctic char is a great option for eco-vores and very much a fish to watch as we move towards a more sustainable seafood regime here in North America. With the temporary hiatus of Cascade Aquafarms, though, supply is not what it was four or five months ago.
There is some good news, however — this opens up the market for new farms to emerge. Farms like Aquanor in Iceland and Icy Waters in Canada are rushing to get their closed-containment char to market. And as savvy consumers from California to Connecticut gain a taste for this miraculous fish, demand will continue to balloon.
The Arctic Char Revolution: Bad for salmon farmers, good for the planet.