Canada’s First Collect-And-Release Aquarium

Located on the traditional territory of the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ – Ucluelet First Nation.


“Our mission is to raise awareness about local marine biodiversity and promote respect for the ocean environment. We greet visitors from all over the world treating them to a very personal view of the fish and invertebrates from our local waters in Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds.”

Our History


In the spring of 2004, the Ucluelet Mini Aquarium was opened as a pilot project on the Ucluelet waterfront. Conceived by Philip Bruecker as an alternative to large modern public aquaria, its focus was on local species only, interactivity, open display of infrastructure and, most importantly, a “catch-and-release” model which saw specimens released back to their home habitats each autumn. This pilot project proved popular and the non-profit Ucluelet Aquarium Society was formed to oversee and grow the aquarium.

By the late 2000’s, the increasing popularity of the aquarium strongly suggested that our ‘plywood shack’ Mini Aquarium was no longer able to meet the needs of the public and plans were hatched to construct a permanent facility.

With thousands of hours of volunteer input, widespread contributions from local businesses and, finally, support from municipal, provincial and federal governments, the new Ucluelet Aquarium opened its doors in May of 2012. Designed by Blue Sky Architecture and built by local tradespeople, the aquarium has proved popular with residents and visitors alike. The aquarium now attracts international attention.

As visitorship continues to grow, and programming, outreach and conservation efforts expand and evolve, the Ucluelet Aquarium has remained true to its founding principles. 

Collect-And-Release: How It Works

1. Application for a Permit

Before we begin collecting, we must first apply for a collection permit from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). The permit dictates which animals we are allowed to collect, how many, and where from.

2. Collection

Our exhibits are recreations of habitats from Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds. We collect with a mix of scuba diving, seine nets, traps (crab, prawn), snorkeling, and low-tide gathering. Weather can be pretty unpredictable in February so collecting can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to over a month. The GPS location, species, water conditions, and weather conditions are all recorded so that we can return the animals to the right place when it’s time to release them. 

Map Of Collections


5. Veterinary Inspection

Before any of the animals can be returned to the wild they need to be inspected by our veterinarian and declared healthy. And it’s not just the fish that get a check-up – crabs, urchins, sea stars, even scallops get inspected too!

6. Release Permit and Release

A special permit from DFO is required before we can let any animals go back into the wild. Once approved, we take the animals, rocks, sediment, and seaweeds back to their collection sites.

Ucluelet Aquarium

3. Transportation and Acclimation

A major benefit of collecting locally is that the transportation time from the collection site to the aquarium is minimal. Once at the aquarium our staff compare the water conditions from the collection site to the conditions at the aquarium and make sure that the animals are properly acclimated.

4. A Brief Visit

Most of the animals in the aquarium visit for around 9 months. Others, like our giant pacific octopus, spend 3-4 months. Still others, like most of our perch species, stay for roughly a full calendar year. The time spent in the aquarium varies between species depending on their unique needs, seasonal migrations, and growth patterns.


Flow-Through System

The water in our exhibits is drawn from right outside. This makes the transition to and from the aquarium easier for the animals. Any changes in oxygen, temperature and salinity that happen outside will be happening in the aquarium as well.


The water pumped through the aquarium is full of life. From microscopic algae to sea slugs and baby crabs, these tiny animals are a key part of the aquarium. Some of this life (plankton) feeds our filter feeders (barnacles, scallops, plumose anemones and more) and some of it settles in our tanks and grows. These settlers include urchins, scallops, hermit crabs, shore crabs, tunicates, anemones, tube worms, and so much more. At then end of the year our release list is much longer than our collection list!