Over the years, I have attended a number of workshops/seminars about closed containment. I am continually struck by how the conversation and language has changed. Far from being a figment of our solution-seeking imaginations, we are now witnessing the growth of a new industry and a viable alternative to open net pen salmon farms. Three years ago, DFO held a workshop during which a number of academics and industry people ridiculed the very idea that salmon could effectively be raised in closed containment facilities. The entrepreneurs and innovators in the room took on the challenge; the technological developments since then have been amazing.
After many years of refuting the very possibility of closed containment, BC salmon farmers now claim they are the experts and global leaders in closed containment, as this is how they grow most of their smolts and some broodstock (which are indeed marketable size), but still they claim that it will never make money. As time and technology proceed, their arguments become more and more feeble, just like the ones put forward by those who initially opposed seat belts or emission control devices on automobiles.
Last week, several members of CAAR attended the Aquaculture Innovation Workshop organized by TIDES Canada, which was packed with closed containment experts from around the world. We heard from numerous companies growing salmon in a variety of closed systems. Many more are in the planning and building stages. This dramatic spike in projects and producers shows closed containment farmed salmon is not a fad or niche market product, but will be essential in helping major North American food retailers meet the sustainability commitments they are currently putting in place.
The market demand is rapidly growing. For example we heard in 2008 only two major North American retailers had a Sustainable Seafood Policy, now more than twenty-five (all but a few) do. As these retailers implement their policy, many have committed to removing open net farmed salmon from their shelves within a few years. In fact, one grocery chain has said that acquiring salmon grown in closed containment is more of a priority than organic. Clearly the consumers are now the driving force. The race is on to be the first to fill the desire for sustainably grown farmed salmon from closed system technologies.
We heard presentations from seven closed containment operations designed to grow salmon commercially, as well as three commercial scale research facilities dedicated to fine-tuning the technology and determining the most effective and economical growing environments. The Freshwater Institute in West Virginia is raising two strains of Atlantic salmon to market size in freshwater, looking at variables such as light levels, feed conversion (which appears to be improved in closed containment), swimming speeds, water quality and densities.
It was very clear from all presentations that the key to healthy, fast growing and economical production is water quality. Economic viability depends on the cost of high water quality resulting in a high density of fish, providing large volumes of quality product.
The higher the water quality, the greater the numbers of healthy fish grown. Evidence is increasingly showing that fish grown in higher densities in tanks with appropriate current flow, are able to follow their natural propensity to swim in schools, resulting in less bodily damage and reduced aggressive behaviour, and higher fish welfare measurements. The densities of some of the trials are well over 80 kilograms per cubic metre. Current density in open net pens is approximately 45 kilograms per cubic metre.
Since most assumptions of energy use of closed containment projects have been based on out of date information and technology, it was refreshing to hear of a recent study, by Andrew Wright, showing about the same carbon footprint for an open net pen and a planned closed system in the same geographical region. The proposed integration of heat exchange and heat pumps will drastically reduce the required energy use of the closed system.
It is exciting to hear of the diversity of systems, of varying sizes and designs, incorporating such things as renewable energy, waste recovery, by-product reuse and aquaponics, which is the use of fish waste to grow plants.
It is very clear, both from this workshop and the Sustainable Seafood Summit last January, that the market is more than ready for salmon grown in closed containment, and suppliers and retailers are clamouring for product. Many of them have committed to stop carrying unsustainable seafood within a specified time frame, and are eager to stock seafood products they can be proud to carry. Salmon grown in closed containment, posing no threat to the marine environment or the health of the wild salmon runs will soon be the only acceptable farmed salmon on the market.