Broodstock Program Yields Outstanding Results
What comes first: The salmon or the egg?
That “debate” is part of the conversation within Mowi Canada West’s Broodstock department, where they can observe the entire “circle of life” of the salmon.
Over the past six years, Breeding and Broodstock Production Manager Yvonne Sheehan and her team have developed and advanced the Broodstock program from a traditional breeding program into a genomics-based program, with outstanding results.
“The eggs produced in the last two years have been bred to maximize growth, gill health, pigment uptake and to minimize early maturation,” Yvonne notes. “The coolest discovery in our program has been the discovery of a gill health QTL – a genomic marker found in the DNA. The 2021YC is the first YC that we hope will show some major improvements for production for these traits.
“We work closely with MOWI Genetics AS and they are impressed with our large data set. This data set helped us find the gill health marker in our salmon DNA.”
Yvonne has been salmon farming for 24 years, the past 6.5 with Mowi Canada West, and leads the teams at the land-based Freshwater Farms (FWF) facility in Duncan and Tsulton in Port McNeill, as well as two saltwater sites at Glacial Creek in Jervis Inlet, and Shaw Point near Campbell River, where she has worked from her home office since the pandemic started.
The “circle of life” starts with the fertilizing of baby broodstock eggs at FWF, Yvonne explains.
“Here they are grown to fry and then shipped to our freshwater smolt facilities at Big Tree Creek and Ocean Falls,” she states. “Then the broodstock smolts are sent to two specifically chosen SW sites. One of these sites holds the broodstock until about 800 grams. Then they get shipped to our Shaw Point site where they are grown to harvest size, just like all our production sites.”
At about 5.5 kg average, only the largest individuals are hand selected. These hand selected future brood are then fed a specialized broodstock diet in their final year before maturity. “This diet aids and boosts their nutrition for optimal gonad development. Half-way through their year to maturity they are moved to our Glacial Creek site where they will finally mature and spawn,” she adds. “Once they are ready to spawn, the eggs are stripped from the females and milt from the males.”
Each male and female are sampled for known viruses and bacteria, and the gametes are then individually labelled and packaged with oxygen and shipped to the hatcheries, where the eggs and milt are then matched for fertilization based on a known breeding index in their pedigree.
“Yes, pedigree,” she notes. “We know the family tree of every single fish for many generations through their DNA. We know how they will grow and perform from measuring a group of fish that are their parents siblings, our performance evaluation (PE) fish.
“We track and measure every individual in this PE group from egg to smolt to harvest.”