Proponents laud sustainability of these fish compared to net-based farmed salmon
The first Atlantic salmon grown entirely on land are now landing on grocery store shelves, marketed as a sustainable alternative to salmon grown in ocean-based net pens.
The land-based Atlantic salmon, branded under the name Kuterra, is being distributed by Albion Fisheries and sold at 140 Safeway stores in B.C. and Alberta.
Atlantic salmon grown in net pens is red-listed by sustainable seafood groups SeaChoice and Ocean Wise for its impact on wild salmon and the use of antibiotics and pesticides in production.
With the help of innovation grants from the federal government and matching funds provided by the conservation foundation Tides Canada and others totalling $9 million, the Namgis First Nation built the Kuterra closed-containment salmon farm near Port McNeill on Vancouver Island. The system — the first of five to be built on the site and the first commercial-scale land-based Atlantic salmon farm in North America — is designed to produce 470 tonnes of salmon annually.
Kuterra answers most of the concerns that people have about farmed salmon, said CEO Garry Ullstrom.
The Namgis facility recirculates 98 per cent of its water and the salmon never come in contact with wild salmon. Young fish from the hatchery are held in quarantine for four months before being moved to larger tanks to grow, so the facility can operate without pesticides or antibiotics.
“We make a certain promise with the Kuterra brand — it’s a taste promise and a purity promise,” said Ullstrom. “We will not treat our fish with pesticides or antibiotics and sell them under the Kuterra brand.”
As for consumer reaction to the Kuterra salmon, so far demand has exceeded supply, said Albion Fisheries vice-president Guy Dean.
“Although still very early, interest and positive feedback have been phenomenal,” Dean said in an email. “We are being contacted by potential distributors from all over North America … Sales have exceeded our initial expectations and we look forward to the day when available volume increases, since demand is currently exceeding availability.”
Dean also said the Kuterra salmon, though not yet sustainably ranked, are endorsed by both SeaChoice and Ocean Wise.
Critics point out that land-based aquaculture requires significantly more power for pumping and heating water than net pen farms; but access to inexpensive hydroelectric power with a low carbon footprint gives B.C. aquaculture a competitive advantage, said Ulstrom.
Fish grown in land-based tanks are protected from cold and weather, safe from predators and grow to market size in roughly half the time of fish in net pens, he said.
Kuterra’s launch comes just as B.C.’s net pen aquaculture industry faces more unflattering media attention in Canada and the United States.
Vancouver Sun reporter Peter O’Neil recently revealed that Canadian aquaculture firms — including two in B.C. — have been paid $94 million by the federal government over the past two years as compensation for fish that were destroyed due to disease.
The American news magazine 60 Minutes aired a segment on ocean-based salmon aquaculture in B.C. last weekend recounting many of the environmental issues that have plagued the industry, including outbreaks of disease and parasites and the impact of farms on wild salmon stocks. An online video segment touted the Namgis closed-containment operation as a potential salmon farm of the future.