Fish out of ocean water dampen aquaculture enterprise

Alex Whitebrook/ November 7, 2017/ News/ 0 comments

Some day, it might be possible to raise salmon in land-based closed containment ponds and make a profit.

But that day is still a long way off, and even when it does become economically viable, land-based aquaculture might be like organic farming: an option for consumers willing to pay a premium, but which can’t replace ocean-based salmon farming.

That’s not just the conclusion reached by the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA), it’s also the opinion of a Nanaimo businessman who owns a land-based fish farm.

“There’s nobody yet that’s made money, including us,” said Steve Atkinson, president of Taste of B.C. Aquafarms in Nanaimo, which raises steelhead at its Little Cedar Falls fish farm.

“As far as transferring the net cage industry into land-based operations, we’re years away, and probably it is not even a viable goal.”

The International Salmon Farmers Association (ISFA) agrees. A recent ISFA study concluded that land-based salmon farming is fine for raising smolts, but faces serious financial and technological limitations when it comes to raising salmon to maturity.

The biggest concern with ocean-based salmon farms is the fear that they might transmit diseases to wild fish, something Atkinson feels is not substantiated by science.

 

In response to letter writers in the Nanaimo News Bulletin last month that argued for the wholesale removal of salmon farms from the water and onto the land, Atkinson’s letter to the editor stated that “while there is a common perception that the technology currently exists to take the salmon farms out of the ocean and move them on land, it simply is not so.

“Atlantic salmon, which is the most cultured salmon, has simply not been successfully raised at commercial scale on land at a profit anywhere, other than at hatchery stage.

“Land-based salmon farming does have a future in B.C., and our farm is showing that. But, I see land-based salmon farming as a complement to ocean farming, not a replacement.”

B.C. is littered with failed attempts to grow either Pacific or Atlantic salmon in land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) over the past 20 years.

Kuterra, a land-based salmon farm near Port McNeill, has had some success, but only because of subsidies from government and non-profit organizations. It’s now being sold by its owners, the Namgis First Nation.

The Namgis started raising salmon at the fish farm in March 2013 and began selling its fish one year later. But in June, the Namgis put the facility up for sale.

“The Namgis have run from it,” said BCSFA director Brad Hicks, who last year did a financial analysis of Kuterra that concluded it is seven times more expensive than ocean-based salmon farming.

“They don’t believe in it, from a business perspective. If nobody that’s that close to it will put any money into it, that’s the biggest sign it’s not viable.”

Read more HERE.

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