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Piscine: The Craft Brewery of Aquarium Fish Food

Non-traditional tech company’s patented process also increases Kokanee salmon population.

An idea born out of an environmental mistake in the mid-60s has created one of the Okanagan’s biggest business success stories you may not have heard.

Vernon, BC based Piscine Energetics has been selling high-quality fish food for over ten years and is currently experiencing a significant bump in sales due to some recent awards bestowed upon the company.

Nuri Fisher, President of Piscine, attributes his company’s success to his grasp of the behaviour of mysis shrimp - a small crustacean that dwells in Lake Okanagan in large numbers. Fisher and his team have taken that knowledge and developed a technology to harvest the shrimp and create sustainable food for aquarium fish around the world.

Piscine’s growth is due in part to its participation in the RevUP program, a vital offering from Accelerate Okanagan, a tech accelerator which focuses on the growth and scaling of local tech companies. Fisher is especially inspired by the meetings with Executives In Residence (EIRs, who serve as mentors) made available by Accelerate Okanagan. “We get the greatest ROI from our time with AO and the EIRs,” he said. “They challenge us, and they get us to push farther and ahead. I walk away from those meetings energized and inspired. They’ve been there and done that.”

Fisher has benefitted from the networking opportunities with other entrepreneurs and business owners in the AO system. “Getting into the AO network has been a great experience: meeting peers in other organizations, learning from other rapid growth companies, piggybacking on some of their ideas, and leveraging best practices they are using. I like to think of our business as a decade-old startup,” he said.

The genesis of Piscine is in fact several decades old. The journey from the late 60s to today is a fascinating one, which starts with mysis shrimp being introduced to Lake Okanagan with hopes of increasing the Kokanee salmon population.

The Ministry of Environment started with smaller and shallower lakes. Shrimp would breed and multiply, the salmon would eat the shrimp, and that lead to larger egg counts. After a successful run in the Kootenay lakes, they introduced the shrimp to Lake Okanagan and used the precedent set in the Kootenays.

But by the late 90s, while the mysis shrimp population exploded in Okanagan Lake the Kokanee population never rebounded.

“Okanagan Lake is very deep and Kootenay Lake is rather shallow,” Fisher explains. “They didn’t know that the shrimp were going right to the bottom of the lake and the salmon were swimming near the surface.”

By introducing a competitor for the same kind of plankton, the food chain was disrupted with the salmon not eating the shrimp.

Solving the problem of how to harness the mysis shrimp in an environmentally sustainable fashion was difficult, and would require some clever use of technology. So Piscine pioneered a methodology for harvesting the mysis shrimp when they come to the surface at night.

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With the system in place, Piscine could now deliver on its two-pronged mission to create a food product with all the nutritious benefits derived from the mysis shrimp and at the same time improve the Kokanee salmon population in the Okanagan.

Using Piscine’s food, aquariums across North America discovered something nobody expected: endangered aquarium specimens like seahorses were responding the next day to the mysis shrimp. The fish started spawning, responding to the unique nutritional properties in the mysis shrimp not found in other food.

To keep up with growing demand for dry aquarium food, Piscine has shifted gears from producing a frozen product to incorporating the fresh catch into a dry pellet. The process of transforming fresh mysis shrimp into dry aquarium food is unique to the marketplace, and one which sets piscine apart from competitors.

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“The low heat in our craft handmade methodology allows us to preserve the integrity of the mysis shrimp,” Fisher said. “We have a 100% sustainable source going into the product which is highly attractive to aquarium fish.

Piscine launched its dry food product in the fourth quarter of 2016 and has already been named a Top 10 reef aquarium product by the largest aquarium blog, reefbuilders.com. The award was the first ever given to a food product. 

Learn more:

For more information on Piscine Energetics, click here.

Click here for more information about the RevUP program offered by Accelerate Okanagan, or contact Thuy Tran, Accelerate Okanagan's Program Manager.

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