Arctic char is a member of the Salmonid family. It resembles a salmon in appearance but is genetically more closely linked to trout. While some populations of Arctic char migrate to the ocean and return to freshwater to spawn, others spend their entire life in freshwater. Unlike Pacific salmon, Arctic char do not die after spawning.
In the wild, these fish enter saltwater in the spring and spend the summer gorging themselves on fish like capelin and Arctic cod. In the fall, they return to freshwater lakes and rivers, weighing 30 to 50 percent more than when they left. In many cases, char does not feed during winter months; it lives off the fat accumulated the previous summer.
Although Arctic char has been farmed for well over a decade and farmed product represents the majority of the U.S. market for char, production remains quite small. Arctic char is currently farmed in Canada, Iceland, Norway and the U.S., with the majority of U.S. supply originating in Canada and Iceland. Farmers have had considerable difficulty selecting char that consistently perform well because of its complex genetic makeup, which is one reason supply of Arctic char remains relatively limited.
Land-based, closed-cycle systems used to farm Artic char are considered to be among the most environmentally responsible fish farming designs, as they do not significantly pollute surrounding waters or affect nearby wild populations through escape or disease transmission.
Similar to the feed of other farmed carnivorous fish, farmed Arctic char feed contains fish meal, fish oil, and varying levels of a synthetic version of natural carotenoid pigments (used to give the flesh a pinkish hue). Continued use of wild fish for feed is unsustainable; however, diets using a larger proportion of grain are being developed.
In northern Canada, local Inuits of Nunavut participate in a closely monitored commercial Arctic char fishery with only 100 MT (220,000 pounds) of commercial production. Commercial catches only take place after the community’s food requirements have been met, and fishermen use passive gear such as shore-set surface gill nets, fish weirs and traps.
RULES FOR WILD CHAR:
DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN WILD AND FARMED:
© 2006 Seafood Choices Alliance