Better Eat "Alberta Trout"

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 Majestic mountains with splashing crystal clear waters conjure up visions of thrashing rainbow, cutthroat and brown trout. This vision brings forth a fish farming instinct in many entrepreneurs. "What a perfect use for my pond on the back forty. I'll just plant it with fish!" "Now, is the time that the mystery really begins," says Frank Fallwell, formerly at Billingsgate Fish Co. Ltd.

One can only guess the number of times in over 100 years that buyers at Billingsgate Fish Co. Limited in Calgary have been asked the question, "If I grow some fish, will you buy them?" Sometimes as many as three calls per month, states Fallwell. We could interpret this as a great number of place settings supplied by local fish farms. With all this farming interest, why aren't there thriving fish farms on every water course in the Province of Alberta?

First, who is going to buy the fish in the quantities that could be raised? What will those people give up in their diet in order to consume these fish? If I can clean and dress fish, then why can't my customers clean their own fish?

"Now, let me see ... three meals per day ... four people in a family. We all like fish times the number of days per year, times 3,600,000 people in the Province. Wow! This means I can market over 1,000,000 fish per year. Let's get started."

Trout farm purists are probably turned off by now with this type of rhetoric. The truth of the matter is that many market consultants do extract their information in a simplistic and straight mathematical manner, without in-depth market analysis. You must know what the retail and food service markets want, what's available in the market today, what the consumption trends are, and just how a backyard fish pond will fit into the scheme of things, on a sustainable basis.

Years ago, it was the Danes and the Japanese who supplied North American markets with frozen rainbow trout. Since the 1950's, the bulk of table trout, fresh and frozen, has come from the Snake River system in Idaho. Some also came from other States, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Most local trout production seems to have found its way into fingerling stocking programs for recreational farm dugouts, stocking of select public waters, or private U-catch'em endeavors.

"Large scale trout for the table enterprises have not shown viability in Alberta" states Fallwell. If we have all the natural benefits that lend themselves to raising fish in a fish farm environment, then why has raising table fish not been a very positive experience for the entrepreneur? If you can answer that question, you could be the one successful farmer that everyone is looking to be.

On any given day, a large fish processor / distributor inventories 200 to 250 different species of fish and seafood. In order to be part of those numbers, a fish farmer must admit to several known facts. Fresh fish return more money than frozen, non value added fish. Consistency in the market place creates a market place. Promotion, sampling, preparation hints, and pricing incentives all contribute to the consumer wanting to replace their traditional fish diet with trout.

Fish, represent 3-4% of our protein diet when we include red, white and poultry meats. Just getting a place on the plate is a challenge. Flesh color requirements for the food service or restaurant use also have a bearing on the marketability. When only so much fresh trout can be consumed, the value added component can be a market relief for non conforming and surplus fish. Hot and cold smoking, pickling, canning, pat‚, and stuffing are all possible market forms that have potential. However, these prospects take a great amount of money, promotion and time to be a viable market presence.

The rainbow trout marketplace will be a very interesting farming challenge into the future. From a marketing standpoint, it has never been in a better situation. We have new varieties of fish being raised, with the industry under support of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. Worldwide, aquaculture knowledge has dramatically improved. Now the consumer market requests farmed fish; all contributing to a bright exciting future for this wonderful food.

Frank Fallwell, Billingsgate Fish Co. Ltd.
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Dan Watson.
This document is maintained by Mary Ann Nelson.
This information published to the web on May 5, 2009.
Last Reviewed/Revised on April 30, 2013.