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Thierry Chopin

Dr. Thierry Chopin was born and educated in France. He obtained his Doctorate from the University of Western Brittany, Brest, France. He moved to Canada in 1989 and is presently Professor in the Biology Department at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John.
Sir Thierry Chopin Thierry Chopin after he was inducted as Chevalier in the Ordre des Palmes Académiques of France (photo: Marine Chopin).

Dr. Chopin was originally an ecophysiologist and biochemist working on the relationship between nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) and the production of phycocolloids, such as carrageenans, in seaweeds of commercial value both in controlled culture conditions and natural beds. Phycocolloids - like carrageenans, agars and alginates - are seaweed extracts of high added value used in, among others, the textile, food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and biotechnological industries.

He became interested in aquaculture when he realized that the significant amount of inorganic nutrients and organic particles generated by fed finfish (salmon) aquaculture could be used to enhance the cultivation of extractive species, such as seaweeds (kelps) and shellfish (mussels), through the development of integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) systems providing environmental sustainability, economic diversification and social acceptability for the aquaculture sector within the broader perspective of responsible coastal zone management.

In 2001, Dr. Chopin became the Principal Investigator of an inter-disciplinary project funded by AquaNet, the Canadian Network of Centres of Excellence for Aquaculture, which was entitled "Development of integrated aquaculture (fish/shellfish/seaweed) for environmentally and economically-balanced diversification and social acceptability". This collaborative project, which included natural and socio-economic scientists from the University of New Brunswick and the St. Andrews Marine Station of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, industrial partners (Heritage Salmon Ltd. and now Cooke Aquaculture Inc., Acadian Seaplants Limited and Ocean Nutrition Canada) and federal and provincial agencies (the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the New Brunswick Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation), was very successful due to the dedication of the team members and their inter-disciplinary approach. The team also deliberately chose to be involved in the dissemination of knowledge through a very diversified array of media (peer reviewed papers, book chapters, workshops and proceedings, non-refereed technical papers, magazine and newspaper articles, DVDs) to reach out to different targeted audiences: researchers, federal and provincial agencies and regulators, industry, professional associations, environmental NGOs, First Nations, and the general and school public.

Thierry Chopin picture at site Thierry Chopin takes a break from work, at an IMTA site in the Bay of Fundy, Canada (photo: Manav Sawhney).

Since 2006, the AquaNet project has expanded from R&D to C (commercialization) aspects with the support of the Atlantic Innovation Fund of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and the continued collaboration with scientists of the St. Andrews Marine Station of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Dr. Shawn Robinson is co-leader of the project) and our industrial partners Cooke Aquaculture Inc. and Acadian Seaplants Limited.

Dr. Chopin, with the help of his undergraduate and graduate students and technicians, has been able to improve the culture techniques for the kelps, Saccharina latissima (previously known as Laminaria saccharina) and Alaria esculenta, both in the laboratory and at the aquaculture sites (the lab phase has been reduced from 113 to 35 days and the biomass production has been increased from 8.0 to 20.7 kg. m-1 of rope). Kelps grown in proximity to salmon farms increased their growth rates by 46%, in comparison to kelps grown at reference sites, which reflects the increase in food availability and energy. Nutrient, biomass and oxygen levels are being monitored to model the biomitigation potential of an IMTA site. Since 2001, none of the therapeutants used in salmon aquaculture have been detected in kelps collected from the IMTA sites; levels of heavy metals, arsenic, PCBs and pesticides have always been below regulatory limits. Dr. Chopin is working with industrial partners to develop niche markets for kelps and their derived products.

Thierry Chopin with the DVD cover Thierry Chopin poses for the UNBSJ newspaper, The Baron, displaying the new release of our project DVD through AquaNet (the video can be seen in the Audio/Visual section) (photo: UNB).

Most participants of a focus group study felt that IMTA has the potential to reduce the environmental impacts of salmon farming, benefit community economies and employment opportunities, and improve the industry competitiveness and sustainability. All felt that seafood produced in IMTA systems would be safe to eat and 50% were willing to pay 10% more for these products if labelled as such. Preliminary data of a bio-economic model show that the addition of seaweed and mussel to salmon farming is profitable and helps reduce risks.

As all current findings support the establishment of IMTA systems in the Bay of Fundy, Dr. Chopin and his co-investigators are now working on scaling the experimental system up, quantifying the biomitigation services provided by extractive seaweeds, and developing the appropriate food safety regulatory and policy framework for the development of commercial scale IMTA operations. They hope to extend the IMTA concept to other parts of Canada, and beyond, by developing a flexible bio-economic model that can be adapted to other regions. Site selection for the best compromise between site characteristics, species selection, and market demands will be key to optimizing IMTA.

Previous research conducted by Dr. Chopin includes:

Dr. Chopin is Past President of the Aquaculture Association of Canada and of the Phycological Society of America, and is President of the International Seaweed Association. He is an advisor to the International Foundation for Science, in Stockholm, and a member of the Editorial Board of the journal Aquaculture International. Dr. Chopin is also Honorary Vice-Consul of France and was awarded the distinction of Chevalier in the Ordre des Palmes Académiques of France in 2006.