Trout farms face grim future

The Alberta government has offered financial help to trout farms affected by whirling disease.

However, two trout farm operators say the cash, which is considered “recognition of inconvenience”, won’t come near covering their losses from having their businesses under quarantine.

Jack Fraser, of Fraser Trout Farm near Lacombe, said he told a government representative who visited him with the offer that it was a “slap in the face.”

Fraser said he hasn’t accepted the offer but questions whether he has any other choice than get embroiled in an unwelcome legal battle.

“It just amazes me they would lowball you that badly,” he said. “It definitely leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

Besides his investment in equipment, buildings and operational costs, the ongoing quarantine shut off his income stream for this year and next because he was unable to hatch eggs this spring.

While his fish under quarantined he is still paying to feed them and run the power at his trout farm.

He has been told he might be able to get a licence again, but would have to make expensive upgrades. Even then, there is no guarantee he would be approved he said.

Alberta Environment and Parks spokesman Brent Wittmeier said the province is committed to protecting the province’s fish and a three-point action plan involving detection, education and mitigation of risks is in place.

Commercial fish hatcheries were placed under quarantine in September when whirling disease was detected in some fish. The three hatcheries still under quarantine were unable to eradicate the disease from their facilities, said Wittmeier.

Whirling disease is so named because a parasite affects the fish’s nervous system and it starts swimming in a whirling manner. It is not harmful to humans but in young fish the mortality rate can be as high as 90 per cent.

The province is committed to working with the owners to find ways for them to continue operations, he said.

“All three were offered financial support to help alleviate the pressures of the quarantine, even though the province is under no legal obligation to do so.”

Bob Allen, of Allen’s Trout Farm near Calgary, is also not happy with the offer, which he estimates is one-10th of what he put into his operation.

Allen, who lives in Lacombe, said he refused the deal and is looking at his legal options.

The trout farm is the second business he looks to lose this year. He recently sold his Alberta Downs horse racing track because Horse Racing Alberta would not give him any races this year.

The third trout farm affected is also near Calgary.

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