NORTH BAY -- A changing climate — bringing with it prolonged droughts, warmer waters and lower oxygen levels — is prompting a major Nova Scotia fish hatchery to adapt.

Alan McNeill, director of inland fisheries for Nova Scotia's Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, says significant changes were made following a three-month period of minimal rain in 2020.

The impact has been seen at the hatchery in Frasers Mills, located in Antigonish County. Frasers Mills is one of three hatcheries operated by the province and is home to 650,000 cold water trout and salmon that are released annually.

The drought last year, combined with warming waters, which means a lower oxygen content, has led to conditions where fish can become stressed, making them more susceptible to disease, parasites and death.

"We certainly are seeing more prolonged drought events," McNeill told CTV's Your Morning on Thursday.

Although fish are quite resilient, he says, they are able to succumb to viral and bacterial diseases, as well as parasites, when stressed.

The hatchery has records dating back to 1926 that have highlighted evolving climate trends.

Although efforts have been made to try and mitigate the situation, namely adding supplemental oxygen, more long-term solutions, such as recycling the water, are being looked at.

"Most commercial hatcheries are recirculating systems where they can control the water, they can control the water quality, the temperature, and filter the water, so ultimately that's the solution we believe for Frasers Mills hatchery," McNeill said.

"We do have supplemental oxygen now, but we really can't sustain more prolonged drought events."

He says they received a study last week that was commissioned from an aquaculture consulting firm that has provided some options to address the issue, with further discussions forthcoming to figure out how to not only put plans in place but also finance them.

"So in the long term, we certainly see recirculating water, recovering it, filtering it as a solution, and we can control, certainly, factors such as disease and water quality filtrations," McNeill said.

The federal government in its last budget set aside $647.1 million over five years to address declining Pacific salmon populations, which in part has been attributed to climate.

A report released Wednesday by Statistics Canada, meanwhile, showed that production and value in Canada's aquaculture industry fell in 2020 during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sales of aquaculture products and services were down 16.8 per cent from 2019 to $1.1 billion, mainly due to lower national prices for finfish products and lower production levels for both finfish and shellfish.