Like a good chef, Indy Canagaratnam knows exactly where the food he feeds the marine mammals comes from. That’s because he goes to fish it himself. For over 25 years, Indy, a senior trainer at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, has been going out with a family of fishermen to catch herring for the Aquarium animals.
Aside from the crew, there is an observer onboard whose job is to record everything including location, fish species, weight of the fish and any bycatch (unintentionally caught animals). Good management of a fishery includes observer coverage, and it’s one of the four criteria required to qualify a certain fish species as sustainable under Ocean Wise™ guidelines.
Indy also keeps a close eye on the type of fish being caught. As someone who knows the marine mammals’ nutritional needs, he is able to quickly identify the best fish for them. For example smaller fish for the harbour seal pups at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre and plumper fish for the adult marine mammals at the Aquarium.
On one such fishing expedition, on Jan. 5, 2015, the boat headed out to Trincomali Channel on the west side of Galiano Island in the Strait of Georgia. Using sonar, they identified where the herring were and waited until dark for them to come to the surface to feed . Herring use the cover of darkness to protect themselves from predators. They caught 72 metric tonnes of herring, the weight of about 50 belugas, in just two nights.
Over the years, Indy must have made quite an impression on the crew since he’s been asked to join them. But is he about to trade his red Aquarium jacket for a fishing net? “No,” he says. “I enjoy going out with them but it’s very hard work. You have to be quick, strong and be able to take the cold.” For now, he’s happy to stay in his post as quality control inspector at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Watch the video below to get a sense of what it’s like to be out on the water with Indy.
Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.