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A genetically-modified AquAdvantage salmon and a non-GM farmed salmon at the same age. Photo: AquaBounty.
A genetically-modified AquAdvantage salmon and a non-GM farmed salmon at the same age. Photo: AquaBounty.

AquaBounty Technologies, which grows gentically modified AquAdvantage salmon at a land-based farm in Panama and sells it in Canada, has announced a $12 million share issue to raise money.

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The Maynard, Massachusetts-headquartered company said it intends to use the net proceeds of the offering to continue construction and renovation activities of land-based facilities in Rollo Bay on Prince Edward Island and in Albany, Indiana; for working capital costs associated with growing its first batches of fish at its Indiana and Rollo Bay farm sites;, and other general corporate purposes.

AquaBounty, a majority-owned subsidiary of genetics firm Intrexon Corporation, has made a public offering of an aggregate of 3,692,307 shares of common stock at $3.25 per share.

Long search

The firm sold 4.5 tonnes of AquAdvantage salmon fillets to customers in Canada in the second quarter of 2017, according to figures released by the firm last year, but attracted criticism for not labelling the fish as GM.

The sale marked the first time that a genetically engineered animal had been sold for food on the open market, something that has taken AquaBounty more than 25 years to achieve in a long search for permission to sell its product.

Market size in half the time

The fish, a variety of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), is engineered to grow faster than its non-genetically modified counterpart, reaching market size in roughly half the time — about 18 months. AquAdvantage salmon have a growth-hormone gene from Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), along with genetic regulatory elements from a third species, the ocean pout (Zoarces americanus). The genetic modifications enable the salmon to produce a continuous low level of growth hormone.

Canada gave permission for the sale of the fish in May 2016 but AquaBounty is still unable to sell in the US, despite US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) approval of the product in November 2015. The law setting out the US government’s budget for 2017 included a provision that instructs the US FDA to forbid the sale of transgenic salmon until it has developed a programme to inform consumers that they are buying a genetically engineered product.