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Competitiveness comes at scale for RAS operations

Land-based systems play important roles for salmon aquaculture,

but can RAS production ever catch up to net pens?

Wednesday, 8 March 2017             
Tim Sprinkle, GAA


In 2010, the SOS (Save Our Salmon) Marine Conservation Foundation entered into a unique partnership with the ‘Namgis First Nation in British Columbia. Their goal? To plan, fund and construct Canada’s first land-based salmon farming operation. Construction of the $7.6 million facility broke ground in 2012 and by the next year some 23,000 Atlantic salmon smolts were growing in five, 500-cubic-meter enclosed tanks near the north end of Vancouver Island.


The result of this work is Kuterra, an RAS-based salmon farm that is fully owned by the ‘Namgis and one of only a handful of commercial-scale, land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) for salmon in the world. The Kuterra facility is capable of producing about 300 tons of salmon per year, growing smolts to maturity in 12 to 15 months.


Still, the growing industry faces challenges. RAS remains a tiny fraction of the overall salmon market, and the costs associated with creating and maintaining a profitable RAS business remain steep, even for the established players.

Case in point: Just this month, the ‘Namgis First Nation, owner of Kuterra, ordered the company to wind down operations. Now that the original startup funding has run out, Kuterra’s owners have struggled to keep the venture afloat, even as they sought buyers to invest in and expand the company. Operations continue at the facility as of this month, but the company’s long-term future remains very much in doubt.


RAS use for salmon dates back to 1989, when scientists from The Freshwater Institute in Shepherdstown, W.V. (USA) first published research to prove that the technology could be a biologically, technically and economically feasible concept. RAS had previously been used for perch and other varieties of fish, which were grown on dry land in enclosed tanks that continuously clean and recirculate the water, but never before with large species like salmon. Development of the industry was slow to start, but has picked up in the last several years as both demand for salmon and the market potential has grown, attracting new investment to the sector.


In the last five years we’ve had tremendous growth in the capability we have for grow-out of Atlantic salmon,” said Steve Summerfelt, Ph.D., director of aquaculture systems research with The Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute (TCFFI). “Right now there are over a dozen facilities that I know of that have salmon stocked or are marketing it.”


Among the larger players in RAS salmon is Atlantic Sapphire with its 800-ton Langsand Laks facility in Denmark and the larger facility it is currently developing near Homestead, Fla., in partnership with Billund Aquaculture. That facility, which was cleared for construction by local officials this month, will produce 10,000 tons annually to start before ultimately ramping up to 90,000 tons of capacity.  The capacity for most of the RAS salmon farms being developed today are in the range of 2,000 to 5,000 tons. Scale is important for land-based aquaculture, explains Atlantic Sapphire CEO Johan Andreassen, because it allows for economies of scale and lowers the per-ton cost of production.  “We think a minimum of 5,000 tons, ideally more like 5,000 to 8,000 tons of annual production, is where you need to be in order to be able to compete,” he said.

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