Kuterra closed-containment salmon farm. (Photo: Kuterra)
Salmon farming on land gets support but its profitability remains a challenge
Tuesday, December 05, 2017, 02:50 (GMT + 9)
Three years after the first Atlantic salmon harvest taking place at the closed-containment fish farming facility in British Columbia belonging to the Namgis First Nation, members of the tribe and conservationists insist fish must be farmed in this way and not in the sea.
These land aquaculture supporters argue that on the one hand, it is possible to avoid causing a huge environmental footprint and on the other hand, they are convinced that fish farms in the open sea are a real breeding ground for sea lice, Times Colonist reported.
“And when the chum salmon leave the river, they’re just little fish. If they’re attacked by sea lice, they don’t survive,” pointed out Bill Cranmer, one of the hereditary chiefs of the Namgis First Nation.
In his view, fish farms in open water spread viruses and antibiotic resistance, issues that worsen if there are fish escapes.
Nevertheless, those opposing raising salmon on land stress it comes with its own set of problems, such as the cost of pumping and cleaning the water, which means salmon farmed in tanks are more expensive than salmon farmed in bays and inlets.
Despite these challenges, conservationists agree that farming salmon in tanks is better and the salmon from the Namgis First Nation facility, called Kuterra, has a certification called OceanWise, which grades seafood according to how sustainable it is.
Kuterra CEO Garry Ullstrom hopes salmon farms can learn from his technology innovation experience as, in his view, Kuterra has proved Atlantic salmon can be raised on land.
However, to many salmon farmers, the question is whether the profit is high enough, since based on its 2016 production, Kuterra’s fish cost 12 times as much to raise as the average for net-pen farms and its salmon would be seven times more expensive, according to a report by analyst Brad Hicks.
Market analysts consider that capital costs are one big problem, but another is that the fish have not grown as large or as quickly as projected. In 2016, they averaged 2.4 kilograms compared with the target of six, Hicks said.
“I think the models overestimate the rate of growth, and that’s very key when you’re looking at the profitability of a system,” said Hicks, who was a technical adviser on Kuterra for funder Tides Foundation and is a board member for the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.
Another consideration: Even if land-based aquaculture takes off, coastal Vancouver Island and British Columbia might have something to lose — the industry itself. Companies could move farms closer to markets or to places with lower labour costs.
On the other hand, biological concerns, tighter regulatory controls and licence costs in ocean-based farms are making land-based alternatives more attractive. New technology has cut the water used by land-based tanks by 99 per cent.
“Our findings suggest the technology has come further than generally expected, and setting up full-scale land-based operations can, under certain conditions, yield acceptable returns,” a report issued by DNB outlines, projecting meaningful volumes from land-based farms by 2020.