Energy use, emissions will increase with land-based fish farms, but….

Canada’s Fisheries Minister, Bernadette Jordan, hints at what’s in the soon-to-be released State of Salmon Aquaculture Technologies study

By Fabian Dawson

Growing salmon to full market size on land will require a high amount of energy, increase greenhouse gas emissions and adversely impact aquaculture-dependent coastal communities in British Columbia, a soon-to-be released government study suggests.

Giving an indication of the study’s findings, Canada’s newly-minted Fisheries Minister, Bernadette Jordan, told the House of Commons yesterday: “while full grow-out to market size fish in land-based closed containment inherently has the most strengths in environmental performance with respect to reducing interactions with the marine environment and wild fish, the study also indicated that a high amount of energy is used in closed containment system construction and operation…”

Jordan went on to say the study noted that increased energy requirements, as well as the corresponding greenhouse gas emissions, “could be offset by locating systems closer to consumer markets and feed sources, and by using low carbon energy alternatives where possible.”

“We expect that the state of salmon aquaculture technologies study will be released soon,” Jordan said in a written response when replying to questions by Mel Arnold, the Conservative MP for North Okanagan—Shuswap in B.C.

Arnold wanted to know what kind of analyses had been done in relation to the late-stage election campaign pledge by Jordan’s Liberal Party which stated that “we will work with [British Columbia] to develop a responsible plan to transition from open net pen salmon farming in coastal waters to closed containment systems by 2025”.

Jordan had earlier this month told SeaWestNews that the 2025 deadline in her mandate letter is the date to “come up with a plan” and is not about getting all open-net salmon farms out of the ocean in five years.

The State of Salmon Aquaculture Technologies study, was announced in December of 2018 and was expected to be released last summer.

It examined the risks and opportunities of the most promising emerging technologies for salmon farming in B.C.; explored the financial, environmental and social elements of emerging aquaculture technologies and highlighted some of the ways to incent the adoption of these new technologies, including how other countries have incented adoption.

The study explored four technology options: land-based closed-containment; floating closed containment; offshore technologies; and hybrid systems, which combine both land and marine-based systems.

According to Jordan, the study indicated that “land-based closed containment, though less financially proven, is the most socially acceptable technology by opponents of open net pen aquaculture, as long as it is developed and operated in B.C.

“On the other hand, the study also indicated that the hybrid system is likely more profitable and the preferred choice for the majority of industry, contingent on it also operating in the B.C. coastal region, responding to some of the key economic and environmental performance criteria.”

Jordan said the government has not studied the commercial viability of closed containment systems in Canada between now and 2025, nor the economic and social impact of requiring operators to convert to closed containment systems by 2025.

“The Minister’s response confirms the Trudeau government made a campaign promise without first assessing the viability of closed containment systems nor the economic and social impact of requiring operators in British Columbia to transition to closed containment systems by 2025,” Arnold told SeaWestNews in an email.

“The government needs to be honest with Canadians. Clearly, the government must release its report assessing salmon aquaculture technologies so that all Canadians, especially industry, may understand the basis for the government’s decisions.”

Arnold urged the Trudeau government to fully assess the viability of closed containment systems and potential socio-economic impacts of the government-mandated transition and make these assessments available rather than hiding their rationale for major decisions impacting thousands of jobs.

The minister also referred to two earlier government studies on land-based fish farming in her written response to Arnold.

The first one in 2008, which sourced input from 60 international experts via the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS), found: “land-based closed containment, showed biological and technological potential; however, at that time none were producing exclusively adult Atlantic salmon, and numerous attempts to do so had resulted in failure for various reasons.

“Further research on the effects of high density culture on fish welfare and disease management was recommended. The floating closed containment systems evaluated, especially rigid walled systems, presented engineering challenges that might limit use in more exposed areas; however, the potential for these to be addressed with engineering solutions was identified.”

The second study in 2010, referred to by Jordan, concluded “that while closed containment production of adult Atlantic salmon has the potential for financial feasibility, it is very susceptible to a range of commercial variables that could quickly make it uneconomical.”

In the wake of the Liberal election pledge, global aquaculture experts, scientists and the industry have labelled the move 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.

There will be ripple effects not only in British Columbia — where almost 7,000 families rely on salmon farming for their livelihoods, according to the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association — but also across the world, said Andrew Mallison the CEO of the Global Aquaculture Alliance.

A few statistics about growing salmon on land


2 billion kgs of salmon (world production) grown on land-based farms would produce 526 billion kgs greenhouse gas emissions

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


Growing 75,000 MT of salmon (British Columbia’s average production) grown at 18kg/m3 in a 99% RAS system would require 4.16 billion litres of freshwater just to fill the tanks.

10 day required depuration period before harvest would require an additional 998 billion litres of freshwater

The current production in Canada alone would require 28,000 Canadian football fields, 33,719 acres, or 159 square kilometers of land to grow fish in appropriate densities in land-based systems.

Freshwater is our most important resource – do we really want to move a sustainable sea based industry to land and increase demand on our freshwater resources?

Goal Six of the United Nations Sustainability Goals speaks to the conservation of freshwater and ensuring access to freshwater globally. When you can grow salmon sustainable at sea, moving to land and using more of our freshwater resources is irresponsible.


Marine farms: density of 15 – 25kg of fish per cubic metre at their peak size. Land based farms: density of 50 – 80kg of fish per cubic metre at their peak size. That makes for really crowded land-based tanks.

Marine based salmon farming allows salmon to remain in their natural environment. This is where they belong for the end of their grow out, not in land based artificial fish factories.

Land based facilities do not eliminate environmental or disease concerns. Pathogens in land-based systems have caused the loss of all fish in some facilities.


Some small-scale land-based farms are producing fully-grown salmon for niche markets, and the reality is, the largest of these produces only 300MT per year. By comparison, Canada produces on average 108,000MT per year.

Land based indoor salmon farms are more than three times as expensive to operate as traditional ocean salmon farms.

Increased use of land-based farms would encourage the relocation of production closer to the main markets. This would have a major socio-economic impact on coastal communities.

(RAS facility in the US. Pix courtesy of Global Aquaculture Alliance)