A preliminary layout of the Swiss Blue Salmon RAS planned for the canton of Glarus in eastern Switzerland. Graphic: Swiss Blue Salmon.

Billund and Swiss newcomer plan ‘world’s smartest salmon farm’

Danish recirculating aquaculture systems specialist Billund Aquaculture has formed a strategic partnership with a Swiss company to produce what they say will the world’s smartest fish farm.

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Swiss Blue Salmon plans to farm 3,400 tonnes (round weight) of Atlantic salmon a year in an on-land farm in the canton of Glarus in eastern Switzerland and will incorporate technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, cloud solutions, digitalisation and automation in the RAS.

The company’s chief technology officer, Sune Møller, looks upon it as a virtuous circle. “From the fish farmer’s point of view, we create a lot of data that gets uploaded to a cloud-based platform and, from there, we can share all raw data with strategic partners like Billund,” said Møller, a Danish mechanical engineer who spent four and half years with Billund and was head of construction for Zeeland Kingfish in the Netherlands before joining Swiss Blue last October.

From left: Swiss Blue Salmon chief financial officer Phil Huber, chief executive Rudolf Ryf and chief technology officer Sune Møller.

“In turn, Billund will be able to analyse that data and come up with new ideas and solutions, to make sure that both stay on the forefront of their industries.”

Water resources

Swiss Blue Salmon founder and chief executive Rudolf Ryf said that one of his original motivations for creating the company was to address the seafood trade deficit in Switzerland, where almost all fish in the land-locked country is imported.

“We have good quality water sources in the country, and I see an opportunity to build up a Swiss aquaculture industry and reduce the import levels from 98%,” he said.

Møller told Fish Farming Expert that the company is engaged in a Series A fundraising round to cover costs of design and permitting and will start a Series B round before the end of the year to raise funds for construction work starting in the second quarter of 2023.

Hatchery first

The hatchery and pre-smolt facility will be constructed first, then grow-out facilities and after that on-site primary and secondary processing. “A key goal is to do as much value adding as possible,” said Møller, who expects the facility to reach full production capacity within five to seven years.

Swiss Blue is keen for its operations to be transparent and expects to offer guided visits for neighbouring communities to an observation deck within the planned facility. It also wants ties with local universities, contributing to knowledge creation and the hiring of specialists for the project and its future farming operation.

And by producing locally, “it gives us a unique opportunity to sell sushi grade fish to local Swiss restaurants, which will be able to serve fish to their customers merely hours after them being harvested at the farm,” said Møller, who pointed out that the success of on-land salmon farmer Swiss Alpine Fish’s Swiss Lachs brand showed there was a demand for a local product. Swiss Alpine Salmon, based in Lostallo in the Italian part of Grisons in southern Switzerland, produces around 600 tonnes (round weight) of salmon per year.

Low energy consumption

When it comes to sustainability, Swiss Blue Salmon’s focus is centered on low energy consumption, upcycling of side streams from processing, reduced transportation, and decreasing food waste due to longer shelf-life.

As Switzerland mainly relies on hydropower, Swiss Blue Salmon will use green energy but is also investing in several energy-saving technologies. Ryf said: “Unlike many other farms, we are able to use passive cooling with 6-8°C lake water while an efficient heat recovery system will be used especially during the wintertime. Likewise, we aim to install solar panels on the roof, which will cover 15-25% of our power consumption.”

Møller added that the sludge resulting from production processes will either be turned into fertiliser or used in a biogas plant locally. “Additionally, we want to utilise 100% of the fish, transforming what would otherwise be considered waste into either pharmaceutical grade products, food for human consumption, or pet food,” he said.

Fish-free feed

The company also has ambitions to feed its salmon on a diet that doesn’t contain forage fish. Møller told Fish Farming Expert: “The intention is to go towards a fully fish-free diet. Whether that happens from the start will depend on what alternatives are available. We are working diligently to discover what works best.”

Bjarne Hald Olsen, chief operating officer and business and development manager at Billund Aquaculture, said: “We are very pleased to enter this strategic partnership with Swiss Blue Salmon. It represents a significant step forward towards the creation of a sustainable Swiss aquaculture industry.”