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Sustainable Development

Vale plans for underground fish farming

20-centimetre-long rainbow trout are poured into the fast-flowing water of Onaping River in Sudbury.

Accustomed to their 1,500-litre tanks at the Vale greenhouse in Copper Cliff, the 4,000 fish, which were released April 19, swim in a tight circle at first. Gradually, the more adventuresome ones begin to leave the school and explore other areas of the river.

Within hours, the fish will change from their initial silvery colour to the mud-brown colour of the river bottom for better camouflage, according to Mike Meeker of Meeker’s Aquaculture on Manitoulin Island, who helped Vale with the project.

“They’re healthy, beautiful fish,” Meeker said. “They’re actually bigger than I expected them to be.”

Meeker, who had been selling fertilizer made from fish waste to Vale for use on their tree seedlings, said he suggested that they also raise fish to repopulate local water bodies.

The company’s response was enthusiastic, he said. They began raising the fish in the greenhouse in November.

“I’m really impressed with the fact that they wanted to try this,” Meeker said. “It was different, it was experimental. They didn’t shy off. We just went full steam ahead.”

He joked that he and his wife became accustomed to phone calls from anxious Vale workers concerned about the fishes’ welfare.

Glen Watson, a senior environmental specialist with Vale, said the idea behind the project is to stock local water bodies which have been historically impacted by the company.

“We still do discharge here (in the Onaping River), but we’re well within the provincial guidelines” he said. “The river is healthy and well able to sustain a population of fish.”

Watson said he and his staff are grateful for Meeker’s help.

“He provided the guidance and expertise for us to be able to do this,” he said. “It takes some caring and feeding on a daily basis, with some automation. It was a lot more simple than we thought it would be, and we’re glad we had the success that we did.”

Vale also worked with the Ministry of Natural Resources to choose the right location to release the fish. The ministry also assisted the company with transporting the fish to the Onaping River and with their release.

“The MNR is really excited to be working with Vale on this,” said Lindsay Munroe, acting marketing and communications specialist for the MNR in the northeast region.

“It’s a great opportunity because we typically do fish stocking anyway. Vale is just another partner. We’re excited about future opportunities.”

Now that the fish-raising pilot project has been deemed a success, Vale plans to raise more fish in its underground greenhouse at the 4,200-foot level in Creighton Mine. It will also continue raising fish at its above-ground greenhouse.

The advantage to raising fish underground is the consistent 23 or 24 degrees Celcius temperature, Watson said. In the above-ground building, which is colder, the water in the fish tank had to be heated.

“It’s an ideal location to raise fish,” he said.

Fish do need light to survive, but much like with the tree seedlings, they’ll be exposed to a daylight spectrum light while being raised underground, he said.

Vale also plans to replace the chemical fertilizers used for tree seedlings with a natural waste fertilizer provided by the fish.

As far as Watson knows, nobody has ever raised fish in a mine before. “We’ve done some research to see if people have ventured into raising fish underground, but we haven’t found any evidence that it has occurred anywhere else.”

This story first appeared in Northern Life, Sudbury’s community newspaper.

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