Rebecca Blank, who graduated from the Cobequid Educational Centre in 2010, just picked up a first-place finish of the Aquaculture Association of Canada’s Undergraduate Student Essay contest.
“In Grade 7, I did a science fair project on snails and their algae consumption, which took me to a national level,” said Blank, a fourth year bachelor of science student at the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus. “I had always liked nature, but more so the marine aspect.”
Through the science fair that year, Blank was introduced to Paul MacIsaac of the former Nova Scotia Agricultural College, with whom she completed an assistant aquaculture operative for six months.
“I definitely enjoy the outside environment and problem solving,” said the aquaculture major. “You have to stay level the whole time because fish can die in about 10 seconds. You’re sort of their lifeline. I like aquaculture because it’s always exciting and there are always new things coming up – new products and techniques that you get to learn.”
Blank said she heard about the national association’s undergraduate student essay contest through an advisor at school.
“Being in fourth year, seeing that it’s a 1,500-word paper, you think, ‘oh, that’s easy to pump out,’ and the $500 prize didn’t hurt,” she said.
The topic for the essay contest was history and the developments over the years through to today. Blank’s title was ‘Swimming in the 21st century.’
Along with the prize money, Blank will have the opportunity to attend the association’s annual conference being held in St. Andrews, N.B., early in June. She isn’t quite sure if she’s attending yet, however, Blank knows why she’d want to go.
“It will be about getting the contacts and working with other fish farmers,” she said, adding she has been offered a job in British Columbia following the end of the school term. “Fish farmers are always helpful and knowledgeable, especially the older farmers because they have been doing things for so long.”
Blank said the aquaculture industry is thriving these days, with no shortage of job openings. Those jobs, however, are in larger areas, such as the city, South Shore and British Columbia.
For two years during her studies, Blank worked with Mike Cameron, who owns North River Fish Farm Ltd. in North River.
“It was small scale compared to B.C., but I really loved it,” she said about her experience as a fish hatchery technician student.
“He’s a private fish farmer – most are owned by bigger companies, so I got to see how he deals with everything.”
During her position with the North River Fish Farm Ltd., Blank looked after feeding and caring for the hatchery, collected data and logged entries for growth, mortality and production, cleaned the fish tanks, maintained optimal water quality and looked after fish health.
With an interest in fish health, Blank is adding a minor in environmental studies to her schooling.
“It was an afterthought because of the sustainability,” she said. “But environmental science goes hand-in-hand with aquaculture. It will give me more knowledge and an advantage.”
Knowing her love for the industry started when she was younger, Blank is hoping others will follow in her footsteps.
“It is really fun and good for the outdoorsy-type person. But you really do have to have a level head because you’re dealing with a lot of live fish.
“But it’s also really rewarding. To see some fish grow from an egg to full production, to know you had a hand in that is so rewarding. You have something to show for it.”