“Moving all our salmon production from the marine environment to land-based operations is not going to happen here by 2025 as some people think it can.”

BC not ready for large land-based salmon farms

“Moving all our salmon production from the marine environment to land-based operations is not going to happen here by 2025 as some people think it can.”

By Fabian Dawson

Replicating the ocean environment to grow salmon on land in British Columbia is at least a decade away says the expert in charge of a project that aims to find suitable locations for land-based aquaculture in the province.

The $100,000 project, details of which are contained in a Request for Proposal issued by the BC Ministry of Agriculture, also aims to assess the commercial readiness of alternative technologies for marine-based salmon production that minimizes interaction between farmed and wild fish.

“We have strong aquaculture expertise here but need a realistic approach for the successful implementation of large-scale land-based salmon farming,” said Dr. Myron Roth, Team Lead, Aquaculture & Marine Fisheries at BC‘s Ministry of Agriculture.

“Moving all our salmon production from the marine environment to land-based operations is not going to happen here by 2025 as some people think it can,” said Dr. Roth, a global expert on various sectors involving fisheries and aquaculture.

“What we are trying to do with this project is ascertain a variety of issues from suitable sites, available technology, power supply, infrastructure, labor availability, and water and after that it will probably need about seven to 10 years to build something that works and first harvest,” Dr. Roth told SeaWestNews.

“It could be one site producing up 25,000 metric tonnes or multiple land-based farms in different areas producing 2,500 metric tonnes each.

“In the meantime, the hybrid option of raising salmon smolts to larger size on land before moving them to sea looks to be the best option here in BC,” said Roth adding current research has not come up with any successful examples of large-scale land-based salmon farming to match the volume being produced by net-pen operations in BC.

In 2020, B.C. produced 92,000 tonnes of farmed Atlantic and Pacific salmon with a wholesale value of $750 million. This represents 46% of total wholesale value of B.C. seafood and 91% of the farmed production value – making farmed salmon B.C.’s leading seafood production species – and, consequently, number one agriculture export. B.C. consistently ranks as the 4th largest farmed Atlantic salmon producer in the world.

Among those who have looked for new sites to expand land-based aquaculture in BC is Steve Atkinson who has been growing fish on land for over two decades. His Taste of BC Aquafarms land-based operation in Nanaimo has a capacity to produce 100 to 400 tonnes of Steelhead trout annually and was acquired by Miami-based Blue Star Foods Corp. in 2021.

“There is simply not enough power available to do large-scale land-based salmon farming in BC and that is the biggest hurdle,” he told SeaWestNews.

“On top of that given the real estate dynamics in BC, land identified as suitable is going to skyrocket putting the property beyond reach.

“I know because this is what I do and I can tell them in 10 minutes what this report is gonna tell them…I have mixed feelings about this RFP,” said Atkinson, a Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) pioneer in BC.

In a recent episode of the Salmon Farming Inside & Out podcast   Atkinson said he has told Fisheries minister Joyce Murray and her officials that the activist-driven agenda to transition away from open-net pen salmon farming to land-based operations in BC by 2025 is a no go.

“And I have been very clear to them that there is not an opportunity at present to convert 100,000 tonnes of salmon production to land base. I’ve been on the committee dealing with the transition plan.

“The technology is not ready. But bigger than that. We aren’t ready as a province to transition.

“We need two megawatts of electricity to power a 1500-ton farm that’s an equivalent of about 2500 homes and there simply is not the power infrastructure on Vancouver Island to support that,” Atkinson said on the podcast.

Dr. Brad Hicks, who has been working in the fish farming industry for over 40 years, said he doesn’t think there are any suitable sites in BC for large scale land-based aquaculture as envisaged by the latest government RFP.

In addition to the huge power and water requirements, Dr. Hicks said the issue of how the effluent from land-based operations are discharged will likely end up being an environmental flashpoint in BC.

“I don’t think putting the wastewater and effluent from land-based fish farms down a well as is being done in Florida is going to fly in BC,” he said.

Dr Hicks said previous studies done by the government, industry and First Nations have all shown that BC is not ready for large-scale land-based salmon farming to replace the current industry.

“If the government keeps thinking it can do it based on what the activists are claiming, taxpayers will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Global fisheries, aquaculture and climate scientists have labelled the activism around moving all BC salmon farms to land based operations by 2025 as unrealistic, reckless, and destructive because growing the global supply of salmon on land would require the same amount of energy per year needed to power a city of 1.2 million people and contribute to higher CO2 emissions.

Raising land based Atlantic salmon also costs 12 times more than ocean farming, they said.

Moving the current production of Atlantic salmon to land based tanks on Vancouver Island will result in an increase 22,881,000 kgs of Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions, a recent study said. That is equivalent to the energy needed per year to power a population of 52,200 or a city the size of North Vancouver.

Last February, a BC government-commissioned report projected that replacing BC’s current salmon farm production with recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), also known as land-based or closed containment operations, would require a direct investment of between $1.8 billion to $2.2 billion.

The report authors from Counterpoint Consulting Inc. also estimated that it will be at least 10 years before a significant land-based salmon production sector is operating at a steady rate in BC.

It mirrors an earlier government report –  The State of Salmon Aquaculture Technologies study released in February 2020 which warned RAS technology requires the use of large amounts of land, water, and power, and thus has a significant environmental footprint, in particular greenhouse gas emissions.

The BC coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) has said that moving to land-based salmon farming is not an option for its members.

“Some Nations in this coalition have completed feasibility studies on land-based salmon farming in their territories for many years, and they came to the same result: it is not possible, and if it was, they would have moved to land-based salmon farming years ago,” FNFFS said.

Linkedin image of a land-based salmon farm