Yonathan Zohar: "The only way to really scale that up is with land-based systems that are environmentally sustainable." Photo: UMBC.

RAS farmers join effort to replace US salmon imports

Maine-based on-land salmon farmers Whole Oceans and Nordic Aquafarms are part of a consortium that has been granted $1.2 million to study how to optimally grow Atlantic salmon in land-based aquaculture systems.

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The consortium, led by Maryland Sea Grant and the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), also includes Wisconsin aquaponic salmon producer Superior Fresh.

The grant comes from the National Sea Grant Office, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and is part of a major effort to increase domestic aquaculture production in the United States and reduce the trade deficit associated with salmon imports.

RAS network

The funding will establish a coordinated network of recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) raising Atlantic salmon.

Yonathan Zohar, chair of the UMBC Department of Marine Biotechnology and the grant’s lead principal investigator, said the grant offered an opportunity for domestic production of Atlantic salmon to replace all of its imports. Americans consume 500,000 tonnes of Atlantic salmon annually, 95% of which is imported, and valued at $3.4 billion.

“The only way to really scale that up is with land-based systems that are environmentally sustainable,” said Zohar. “This allows us to identify the bottlenecks, address the issues and develop a strategic plan to make sure this emerging Atlantic salmon aquaculture industry can be successful.”

Erik Heim: Research can lower entry barriers.

Learning curve

“This research is critical in terms of promoting industry development in the United States,” said Nordic Aquafarms president Erik Heim.

“It’s still a very young industry here. There’s a tremendous development potential as we see it. There's a learning curve in this industry. This kind of research can disseminate knowledge and lower the entry barriers for new players as well as help established players grow.”

Whole Oceans’ Jennifer Fortier added: “We want to develop training programs that can help us recruit local workers and retrain skilled laborers from other industries. We look forward to collaborating with the other top-notch partners and learning from each other as we work to expand this industry.”

Neither Nordic Aquafarms’ facility in Belfast nor Whole Oceans’ plant in nearby Bucksport, has yet been built.

Academic partners in the study include the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, University of Maryland Extension, Morgan State University, the USDA National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility, and the Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute in West Virginia. Industry partners and collaborators include American Salmon in Maryland, among others.