Land-based salmon farming workshop brings farmers together

Farming salmon on land is possible, but is currently a risky proposition only suitable for niche markets, salmon farmers heard this week

Farming salmon on land is possible, but is currently a risky proposition only suitable for niche markets, salmon farmers heard this week.

Tides Canada and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation sponsored a two-day Aquaculture Innovation Workshop at Painters Lodge Monday and Tuesday. The workshop was attended by about 75 people, many from local salmon farming and supply businesses. A lot of the discussions were about Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) technology, which Campbell River-based salmon farming companies use to grow salmon from egg to smolt size in land-based hatcheries before transferring the fish to the ocean. The workshop featured researchers and experimenters in the aquaculture field and speakers provided insights into several closed-containment aquaculture experiments happening around the world.

Thue Holm, the CEO of Atlantic Sapphire AS, is currently working on developing a facility in Denmark capable of farming 1,000 metric tonnes of salmon on land. However, he offered some words of caution.

“It’s a niche product,” he said, pointing out that a small-scale facility such as his can’t compete directly with the main farmed salmon market.

Finding a specialized market for his product, as well as selling it at premium pricing, is important, he said.

Location is also crucial, said Steven Summerfelt, director of aquaculture systems research for the Freshwater Institute in West Virginia. Summerfelt spoke at the workshop about several projects he is involved with, including a planned land farm site in Washington State which can buy electricity for only two or three cents per kilowatt-hour (BC Hydro’s business rates are closer to 9 cents per kilowatt-hour).

Summerfelt said farming Atlantic salmon on land has potential “if you can pick sites with cheap power right next to the market.”

In order for land-based salmon farms to be profitable, he said, they have to farm fish at much higher densities than ocean net pens. Conventional net pen systems farm fish at a density of about 15 kilograms of fish per cubic metre at their peak size. In order for a land-based farm to be profitable, it would have to farm fish at densities close to 80 kilograms per cubic metre or even higher, he said.

However, he added, experiments are showing farming fish at high densities is possible, under heavily controlled conditions.

Researchers and experimenters also talked about the high costs of building land-based aquaculture facilities and the high risk to investors. Most of the projects discussed depend heavily on research grants and have low returns on investment.

However, one project underway in Central Canada is taking a different approach. Daniel Stechey, with Canadian Aquaculture Systems, spoke about a project which could help hog and horse farmers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Because of the downturn in the hog industry and pregnant mare urine (used in human hormone replacement therapy) industry, there are nearly a thousand barns sitting empty, he said, so why not convert them to farm rainbow trout?

His company has retrofitted one barn to farm about 130 tonnes of trout. It works, even in the region’s cold weather, and can make modest profits given that a farmer already has a barn structure ready to be converted.

Guests at the workshop also had the opportunity to tour Agrimarine’s solid-wall containment system at Middle Bay, north of Campbell River.

Grant Warkentin is Communications Officer with Mainstream Canada.