Aquaculture giant, Grieg Seafood, celebrates 20th anniversary in B.C., with expansion plans in Eastern Canada, new gold standard for sustainability and a $40 million wellboat in Western Canada.
By Fabian Dawson
It’s been a very merry February for Grieg Seafood B.C., as the salmon farming company celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2020.
Fresh from announcing expansion plans on Canada’s east coast and being awarded the planet’s top certification for raising sustainable seafood at its farms in Western Canada, Grieg Seafood yesterday officially welcomed a new addition to its family – the Ronja Islander.
The $40-million specially designed vessel – Canada’s most technologically advanced aquaculture wellboat – will be added to the company’s arsenal to combat sea lice and act as a ‘fish taxi’ to provide safe handling during live transfers to ocean farms.
“It took almost two months to get it here from Norway,” said Dean Trethewey, Seawater Production Director at Grieg Seafood during a tour of the ship which was docked at Victoria’s Ogden Point.
The 70 metre Ronja Islander, which can handle about 250,000 smolts or about 50,000 adult salmon at a time, was custom built by Sølvtrans and completed construction in Norway in late 2019. Its sister ship, the Ronja Storm, which is twice as long and the world’s largest wellboat, is on its way to a Tasmania.
“We designed the Ronja Islander using input from our stakeholders and Indigenous partners’ said Trethewey, who led the wellboat project that looked at 18 different tenders before settling on Sølvtrans.
“We heard some of their concerns around salmon farming in BC and turned those concerns into solutions when we built the vessel.
“Over two years I travelled to Chile, Ireland, Scotland, the Faroe Islands and nearly all of Norway to look at anti-sea lice technologies and treatment methods.
“The transfer of sea lice from wild fish to farmed fish is an ongoing issue for our industry and for British Columbians who are concerned for wild salmon migrating by our farms, and this wellboat is here to help with that.”
In addition to its state-of-the-art removal treatments for sea lice, the process features 100% capture of the detached lice which will be disposed on land. This is important to us and to wild salmon,” he said.
Sea lice are naturally occurring parasites found on many species of marine fish, pose no risk to humans, but may harm tiny juvenile salmon. Farm-raised salmon are free of sea lice when they are entered into the ocean, but sometimes get infected during the springtime outmigration of juvenile wild salmon.
Nick Knickle, who helms the Ronja Islander with a four-person crew said the vessel is equipped with the world’s most advanced fish-handling technology for both treatments and live transfers to reduce stress on the salmon.
In addition to a full ultra-violet system for disinfecting circulating water, the new technology on the ship also ensures that in the rare event that any wild fish are captured during fish transfers, they will be separated from the farmed salmon and safely released back into the ocean.
“Animal welfare is a critical component of the Ronja Islander,” said Knickle.
This spring, the artwork of Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation artist, Patrick Hunt, titled The Salmon Princess, will be installed on the bow and stack of the Ronja Islander.
The artwork was inspired by a combination of Grieg Seafood’s Norwegian roots and the importance of salmon to BC’s coast.
“Including Indigenous culture in the design of the vessel was important to us, and we are grateful to collaborate with Patrick Hunt in this process,” said Marilyn Hutchinson, Director of Indigenous & Community Relations at Grieg.
“The Ronja Islander will be working in the traditional territories of many coastal Nations, and we hope this art initiative can convey how much Grieg respects the inclusion of First Nations in our operations.”
The Ronja Islander will operate on both coasts of Vancouver Island, servicing 16 of Grieg Seafood’s salmon farms, in addition to being leased to other fish farm operations in B.C. waters.
The vessel’s arrival comes on the heels of last week’s announcement out of Norway that Greig BC’s parent company, Grieg Seafood ASA, is growing its Canadian operations to now include the province of Newfoundland & Labrador.
The expansion project includes exclusivity for salmon farming in Placentia Bay, which has a farmable area bigger than the Faroe Islands. It comprises licenses for 11 sea sites, a high-end Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) facility and has a long-term annual harvest potential of 30,000 – 45,000 tonnes of Atlantic salmon.
“It’s exciting to see Grieg Seafood investing in both the west and east coasts of Canada…This just shows how confident Grieg Seafood is in the growth of our company and the growth of aquaculture in Canada,” said Trethewey.
The Ronja Islander will leave Victoria later this week to begin operations on Grieg’s west coast farms. It will work at Grieg’s two very first ASC certified farms in Nootka Sound.
Three other farms in the area have also recently undergone successful audits and are expected to be granted ASC certification. Six of Grieg’s farms on the Sunshine Coast and in Okisollo Channel near Quadra Island are now under assessment. In total Grieg operates 22 farm sites and a land-based freshwater hatchery in B.C.
The ASC standard was developed with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and is an independent, third party organization which receives no money from the certification process.
To achieve certification under the ASC Salmon Standard, farms are audited against 500 separate aspects of the site’s performance. It is considered to be the gold standard in environmental and social certification.
The new certifications add to the 37 other B.C. salmon farms that have already been certified to the Aquaculture Stewardship Council sustainability standard.
“This is an important first step for Grieg BC as we strive to have 100 percent of our farms ASC certified by 2021,” said Rocky Boschman, Managing Director for Grieg Seafood BC.
“Our salmon farmers and certification team have worked hard to achieve the gold standard in aquaculture certification at these farms. I am very proud of them for representing Grieg’s dedication to excellence in social and environmental sustainability, health and safety, and transparency of our operations,” he said.
Quick facts on the Ronja Islander:
• Length overall 69.86 m, tonnage approximately 1850 GT,
• Volume of cargo hold = 1800 m3 of water
• Accommodation for up to 12 crew members
• 100% closed-system technology during fish transport
• Innovative side-loading pump for better flushing and circulation of water
• Full ultra-violet system for disinfecting circulating water in cargo hold during live fish transfers.
• Full collection and on-land disposal of sea lice after removal during fresh water and hydrogen
• Built-in system for mixing oxygen into the water in the hold.