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Trail-blazing trout farmer ‘over the moon’ with humane stunner

17 January 2023

Trail-blazing trout farmer ‘over the moon’ with humane stunner

Canadian trout farmers Arlen and RJ Taylor are second generation aquaculturists who are driving innovation in the region they farm.

The sister and brother team, whose company, Cedar Crest Trout Farms, raises rainbow trout on Manitoulin Island, in Lake Huron, are spearheading change not just in their own business but in the wider Ontario aquaculture sector. 

The trout farm operates in partnership the Sheshegwaning First Nation, whose territory it is located in, and employs some of its people on the farm.

RJ Taylor, as well as managing the business and marketing side of Cedar Crest, is the managing director for the Ontario Aquaculture Association, and is also involved in advisory groups for the province’s agriculture and environmental ministries.

Meanwhile, Arlen, who looks after farming operations in the company, served on the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) that devised the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farmed Salmonids, published in 2020, covering everything from hatcheries to harvesting.

It is no surprise, then, that this enterprising pair have embraced the latest technology for the humane slaughter of their stocks, leading the way for the Ontario industry to adopt more humane harvesting methods.

Cedar Crest installed an Ace Aquatec in-water electric stunner in September, supplied by Ace Aquatec’s North American distributor, Pisces Fish Machinery, and has since completed its first harvests with the new system.

The trout stunner is similar to ones used by salmon farmers around the world, despite having a smaller output, said Ace Aquatec Regional Manager for the Americas, Sam Bowman. ‘Each species requires a different set up, with the trout stunner configured with a square stun tube rather than the round tube used for salmon harvesting,’ said Bowman.

‘The fish are pumped ashore from the cages direct to the stunner, and remain in water which drastically reduces the stress to the harvested fish. The humanely stunned trout are then put into iced totes and transported to the processing plant, which is 12 hours’ drive away. There haven’t been any start-up issues and the stunner has improved the efficiency of the harvest.’

Before opting for Ace Aquatec’s humane stunning technology, Cedar Crest, in common with most local trout farmers, harvested their fish by pumping them directly into slush ice. With this practice being banned in 2025, Arlen and RJ Taylor wanted to get ahead of the game by switching to humane stunning before the law changes. It was, said Arlen, an easy decision to make, especially after her role, spanning three years, with the NFACC.

‘I learned a lot about welfare while working with industry and academic experts and I really started to question what we were doing,’ she said.

‘I was always raising the fish and was responsible for their lives, and it became very apparent to me that we were not being very responsible in their humane harvest. 

‘Here in Ontario, the primary means of harvest has been an ice-slurry slaughter, in which the fish are put, alive, into totes. This is very hard on staff, emotionally, looking at these animals that we cared for, for two to three years.

‘We were looking for an option that could be used for our farm and also that would get everyone on board in our industry, not only because of the NFACC’s requirements but because it’s the right thing to do’. 

‘Also, it is super important to us that we have the ability to use this equipment in the sub-zero temperatures here. Many of the other stunning options could not guarantee that they would work below 5 degrees C and I needed to find a partner willing to take it to minus 30 or minus 40 even.’

Arlen said that with the Ace Aquatec stunner there was no bruising and, in fact, no problem in the flesh whatsoever, and no broken spines – often a misconception when it comes to dealing with electric stunning equipment. All the fish were able to go through the filleting machines with greater ease, and the flesh colour improved, too.

‘We have already successfully harvested over 500,000 pounds this season and the fish are immaculate and gorgeous and we are over the moon excited,’ she said.

Cedar Crest Trout Farms, which also rears fingerlings for the Ontario sector, is trail-blazing for the whole region now, said Bowman.

‘It’s a real good news story for both parties. For the first time in Canada, this validates that Ace Aquatec's in-water electric stunner is the most humane system for harvesting salmonids.

‘Cedar Crest demonstrated that in-water electric stunning improved the efficiency of their trout harvests, with a smooth flow of fish, and much less stress on the fish and the crew.

‘Ace's humane stunner is operating flawlessly, with 100% of the fish unconscious in less than one second, and top-quality fillets at the processing plant.

‘Cedar Crest has led the way in the Canadian trout industry by being the first to adopt Ace's stunning technology, demonstrating their commitment to fish welfare and best aquaculture practices.’