Bringing fresh exotic fish from the farm to the plate, all in the same day and all raised right here in Montreal — that is the goal of upstart company Opercule, Quebec’s first urban fish farm.
Situated in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough, in the basement of an Urban Agriculture Coop building, are some 50,000 small Arctic char, swimming around and slowly growing in size.
“It’s going to be a real ‘catch of the day.’ The fish will be alive in the morning and delivered in the evening,” said co-founder Nicolas Paquin.
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“We both had a passion for fish and wanted to do something new with our lives,” Paquin said.
Both founders previously had no experience in fish farming.
Paquin was a construction engineer and Dupaul-Chicoine was a musician.
After studying aquaculture together, what started as a pilot project in a garage in the last five years has turned into a major operation for Nicolas Paquin and David Dupaul-Chicoine, founders of Opercule.
Using a series of 12 large basins, the Arctic char will grow for the next year in a heavily controlled environment. The fish will transfer from basin to basin as they get bigger.
Currently, the fish in the first batch are only the size of an adult finger, but they soon will reach 12 inches long.
“By being controlled in the building, by controlling the water and the parameters, the fish are in the optimal growing environment possible,” Paquin said.
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While Opercule’s physical footprint is small, the founders plan on making their carbon footprint even smaller.
Compared with traditional fish farms, Paquin said Opercule is using 100 to 200 times less water and will be making deliveries by electric bike as much as possible.
“We are importing 95 per cent of our fish into the province of Quebec, so it’s important to have more fish farming in the province. But it’s a lot of work. It’s not a weekend project,” Paquin said.
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Already Tested On Restaurant Plates
While the current commercial batch of char is not ready for market, Paquin and Dupaul-Chicoine have tested their produce in the culinary world of Montreal.
A few restaurants in the city participated in the pilot project three years ago and are interested in the future batch.
Francois Nadon, chef at Bouillon Bilk, said the restaurant looks forward to doing business with Opercule.
“The quality of the fish was outstanding,” Nadon said.
He said the fish is ideal for his clients. Having the operation so close cuts down on transportation. The fresher fish will keep longer and create less waste.
“With this fish, we have a much longer time frame to use the product, which is perfect for us,” Nadon said.
As for flavour, Nadon says the Arctic char compares with table classics salmon and trout.
“It’s similar to Salmon and Trout that we find in the superstore but I would say it’s even better because of the freshness.”
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Opercule received financial support and approval for the project from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec (MAPAQ).
The first fish that is ready for market should be hitting a restaurant plate near you by this December, Paquin said.
“Seeing we are almost at the finish line or the next phase. it’s quite exciting,” Paquin said.
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