Meet Your Farmers: Wesley Chase, Ontario Aquaculture Research Centre

Chase holds a rainbow trout broodstock at the Ontario Aquaculture Research Centre

Like so many in the industry, Wesley Chase, research assistant at the Ontario Aquaculture Research Centre (formerly the Alma Aquaculture Research Station) at the University of Guelph, stumbled into aquaculture.

“It wasn’t something that was on my radar. I went through the Freshwater and Marine Biology program at University of Guelph with my sights set on becoming a conservation officer. When I had the chance to volunteer at the research centre, I found that aquaculture checked a lot of boxes for me. I love the agricultural background to it, I get to work with fish, but its also heavily based in science.”

Into his second year at University of Guelph, Wesley decided to change his focus and began to take aquaculture related classes. “I could see there was a great career here so I took Advanced Issues in Aquaculture, Fish and Shellfish Nutrition and any other aquaculture related classes I could get into.”

After graduation Wesley knew he would have to be persistent to get on at the research centre. Summer student work and volunteer work at the research centre were followed by contract work with the Ontario government and the University of Guelph Aqualab. Finally, Wesley got on at the research centre with a one-month contract.

“I was lucky enough to keep getting my contract extended to the point where a job became available, and I was hired full time as the agricultural assistant.” In 2018 Wesley moved into the research technician

position and took over full time in 2019.

Day to day at the research centre Wesley enjoys a diverse role. Husbandry is first and foremost, each morning dedicated to maintaining stock and systems. Because of the diverse nature of research and projects occurring at the facility, afternoons provide a variety of interesting tasks.

“There are a lot of ongoing projects that need attention for water quality and data collection. I do a lot of tagging and breeding fish depending on season. I spend a lot of time in RAS building, when I got here no one was really interested in it.”

While many projects at the research centre are confidential, Wesley was at liberty to speak about a couple.

“We are developing a brood stock of lake whitefish [Coregonus clupeaformis] from a wild collection. There are many interested farmers in the province who would raise them in net-pens if there was a domesticated line,” Wesley explained.

“It’s interesting to work with them. Whitefish don’t like stress and tend to get dramatic if you handle them. Another issue is they don’t metabolize trout diet very well, so we are working to develop a specific diet for them as well. They seem to do well in tanks, they feed heavily at 150C. The stock is being developed into a commercial line, and the techniques developed can be used at facilities looking to support restocking projects”.

The Ontario Aquaculture Research Centre is also rearing sturgeon for a conservation project by researchers at Wilfred Laurier University who are looking at the effects of lampricide.

“The sturgeon are very cool to work with,” said Wesley, “very different behaviour, very different to feed. I really am spoiled working here. We have a lot of toys, and we have many different things going on. It’s never too routine and there is always new stimulus for the brain.”

“There is so much to do and learn here I don’t think I can leave,” Wesley replied when asked about the future.

“The new projects coming up and the new technologies involved are big opportunities. With the new RAS building going in, I want to increase my RAS skills and stay on the cutting edge of technology as best I can. Lately I have been more involved in the analysis side of the research and I’m planning on increasing my stat skills and scientific writing skills.”

With Ontario poised for aquaculture growth and new improvements to the facility, it seems Wesley and the team at the Ontario Aquaculture Research Centre will continue to be on the cutting edge of aquaculture research.

Written by Ron Hill, Velocity Aqua