A few years ago I drove to Tahsis to interview Dr. Leon Walters, a nuclear physicist who loved salmon fishing. He told me that the nuclear industry was built on the backs of brilliant, resourceful (and often uneducated, in the conventional sense) Montana farm boys. The scientists would ask, “We need a machine that will do XYZ. Can you build it?” And they did. Kit Taggart reminds me of one of those men. Except for the Prairies, he’s a man of the Seas; a long time commercial fisherman who now, in his words, works in the ‘closest thing you can get’ — Aquaculture. He’s of an age when as youth we drove cheap, unreliable vehicles long distances, often into the boonies — with no cell phone. Kit Taggart is a man who ‘keeps things running.’
BG: What exactly do you do and how did you come about to doing it?
KT: I started out as a fisherman and still have a couple of commercial fishing licenses. In aquaculture, I started with an area that Marine Harvest had trouble with; I wired a boat for them. And I’m an old guy — I’ve been doing that for about 35 years as when I was young I couldn’t afford to hire someone to fix something. So when the time came to change an engine or to do mechanical work on my boat I just did it myself! So, you know, they were looking for someone who could help them install generators and fix buildings and boats. There’s a lot of equipment out there and you need to have one guy to do all of it and that’s hard to find these days.
BG: What do you like about the industry?
KT: This industry is 365 days a year and its flat out. I like that. In many ways, it’s as close to being a commercial fisherman a person can get these days. And any good mechanic will tell you, they’re not in for the money. It’s the satisfaction of fixing it. Getting a pat on the back from someone at the end of the day, saying, “Thanks a lot, we’re back in business,” that’s rewarding. Really, when you’re the only guy, and you get called as the machine won’t run, and you can go there and make it run, then everybody’s happy, they can do their job, the fish get fed.
BG: What is your philosophy on ‘fixing things’?
KT: (Chuckles) Well, I’ve never really had anything that stumped me. And if it did, I wouldn’t do it until I was absolutely ready and figured out exactly what I was going to do, and that’s when I would tackle the job. Sometimes, I have to sleep on it for a couple nights and then it comes to me and I fix it. Sometimes you can’t do much without a part. But if I can get it running I will. One way or the other, even if it means bypassing the control panel I’ll get it running!
BG: You’ve moved into net washing.
KT: Yes, I am an agent and a distributor for Multi Pump Innovation in Norway, MPI for short. These machines are amazing. Everything from 50 horsepower to 500 horsepower. There’s lots on YouTube and MPI you can see how the equipment works. In my mind, these are the best in the world.
BG: Why are the nets washed?
KT: We live in a very nutrient rich water here. Kelp and mussels
and barnacles, everything grows fast. If you don’t clean them water can’t pass through the nets in the summer and the fish can breathe. Net washing is becoming more important as with coming regulations salmon farms will no longer be able to dip their nets in anti-fouling paint if they want to get their certified organic designation. And that’s what everyone is looking for. We want to have the closest thing to natural we can get.
BG: How often do the nets get washed?
KT: It’s a steady procedure. For example, if you had three sites and each one has ten cages, by the time you get to number 30 you would be back on number 1 and that would take, I want to say, probably 15 days. So, by the time you get to the end you are right back to the beginning and you’re washing them and need to keep them very clean. It’s an interesting concept and its working quite well.
BG: Your company is growing.
KT: Is it ever. It’s quite the learning curve. But we’ve got good people. I have a Red Seal mechanic in my shop and just hired an apprentice who’s going to learn the ropes from the ground up. My main mechanic is an old school guy who’s worked in logging camps and oil fields. He’s a very smart, talented guy. He’s going to to take an apprentice under his wing and teach him the pump business. It’s challenging, for sure. But my guys are happy, they like their jobs and they are good paying jobs on the North Island. I mean, every day they are either at the wheel of a boat or on site working on the machines. There’s lots of diversity in the work.
BG: What do you think about the industry?
KT: It’s changed a lot. It started in about the early ‘80s and at that time most were mom and pop operations. Pretty difficult to raise the money. All the companies are really good people to work with. I’ve got contacts at Cermaq, and Grieg and Marine Harvest and they are all trying to do the same thing. And it’s been good for the area. In Campbell River, I believe, it’s the largest employer of people on the north island now. They run their business responsibly and they are good to their employees and pay really good wages.
BG: What of the criticism the industry gets?
KT: People who work at salmon farms take it kinda personally when
people start bashing salmon farms, you know. I mean it’s frustrating because you go out and do your job everyday and you take pride in what you do — there’s a lot of pride out there — and all you read is negative stuff. But look what’s happening in the world. You can’t find any more farmland, they are putting up houses on it. So you must get food from somewhere. The wild stocks are in trouble as they are hard to sustain. And here we are, growing fish in BC twelve months a year and sending it down island and everyone wins. Objectively, this industry is probably easier on the environment than the meat and poultry industries.
BG: Who do you admire in the industry?
KT: Badinotti Nets, an up and coming Campbell River company. They just bought net cleaning equipment from us. Kevin Onclan is a very smart and educated man and I think he’s going to be very successful in the industry. He’s a colourful man, a biologist by training, I believe. He’s spent years walking creeks, working for DFO, and has a lot of interesting things to say. We have similar backgrounds and he’s taking net cleaning to a whole new level. When they show up at a site they look very professional. The first time I saw the boat I thought, “It’s about time someone took net washing seriously.”
BG: What trends do you see?
KT: It’s just getting better and better, you know. I think their husbandry is much better than it was. We return everything back to the land. We take used oil away in special containments, we take all our dead batteries and ship them out. There is nothing left on the sites at the end of the day. We are trying to go as green as we can. It’s in all of our own best interests. Every year I’m surprised at how far the industry advances. The technology they bring in every year! I can say, from everything I’ve seen and been involved in, the industry wants to be the best it can be. Go out and take a tour, is what I say. (Contact the BC Salmon Farmers Assoc.) As an old guy, I do worry about future generations as we as a species
are growing fast on this planet and we all need to eat.
BG: What about those fishing licenses?
KT: (Laughs) When I bought the company, my corporate lawyer asked me: Why do you keep these salmon licenses? You don’t use them anymore? And I said: Do I tell you how to lawyer? When I was young, it took everything I had and every bit of energy I had to fish as hard as I could to keep them. Why on God’s green earth would I sell them? I’m going to keep them until they are worth absolutely nothing!
Contact Kit Taggart at 250.914.5494.
Cermaq Canada is a BC salmon farming company operating in Vancouver Island coastal communities. Cermaq Canada is sponsoring a series of profiles of Young Entrepreneurs on North Vancouver Island