Curve Lake First Nation plans to produce 275,000 pounds of white fish annually

CURVE LAKE — With the construction of a band-owned facility that will harness the combined powers of aquaponics and hydroponics, Curve Lake First Nation is forging a new path toward self-sufficiency and economic autonomy.

The community is currently constructing a 45,000-square-foot facility on Mississauga Street that will be home to both a fish farm and a greenhouse once complete. Eight bays — covering a 19,000 square foot area — within the facility will be dedicated to fish production.

The area will be home to a recirculating aquaculture system — cutting-edge technology that continuously pumps fresh water from a well — where barramundi white fish will be raised and eventually harvested for sale.

The hydroponics component of the operation will see a variety of fresh produce grown on-site. Four bays within the facility will be designated for growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, kale, spinach and arugula.

Curve Lake First Nation plans to sell the home-grown fish and vegetables at local farmers markets and is in talks to form partnerships with grocery chains. A seafood market in the Greater Toronto Area has also expressed interest.

Curve Lake First Nation hopes to eventually generate 275,000 pounds of barramundi fish each year through the aquaponics operation.

Community members will also be able purchase the harvested goods — a retail store will be built at the front of the facility.

The facility — formalized following a feasibility study in 2019 — was born out of a shared desire from community members and leaders to foster self-sustainability, Brandon Jacobs, Curve Lake First Nation’s manager of economic development and tourism, told The Examiner.

“Food security was a big reason, too. (During the pandemic) we realized the importance of having our own food source within the community and that kind of evolved the project,” Jacobs said, who is helping lead the project alongside Curve Lake First Nation’s economic development director Mindy Knott.

The project, originally pegged at $4 million, is receiving some funding from the federal government.

The aim is to make the facility efficient, sustainable — and environmentally friendly.

The design of the facility will follow a “zero discharge” model and will only use about 10 to 15 gallons per minute thanks to the integrated recirculating aquaculture system, according to Jacobs.

“With the exterior of the facility, we’ve secured some funding to do green infrastructure, so permeable pavement will be used at the outside of the facility instead of standard pavement used in parking lots. It’s a green infrastructure approach we’re looking at,” Jacobs said.

The facility is creating employment opportunities in Curve Lake First Nation, too. Up to 15 jobs stand to be created during the construction phase of the facility. Once the operation is up and running, five full-time job positions will become available, said Jacobs.

Jacobs noted the significance of the facility being led for the community, by the community of Curve Lake First Nation.

“It is a Curve Lake First Nation owned and operated business. It will be a revenue source for the community and it will provide employment opportunities and educational opportunities for the youth as well,” Jacob said.

“We’re hoping to add an educational component so kids can come and see how the production works and what the life cycle is like at the facility.”

It’s important to promote self-sustainability and self-sufficiency to younger generations, he said.

“The next step is to construct the greenhouse, whether that happens now or when the weather is more agreeable. We’re shooting for early spring to have that,” Jacobs said.

As for an anticipated completion date, Jacobs said Curve Lake First Nation is aiming to have the facility operational by December 2023.

Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner