Frequently Asked Questions
What is Land-Based Fish Farming?
Land-based RAS production is a rapidly emerging method for sustainable production of salmon. It is based on indoor production in a controlled environment using large tanks and water treatment systems. Its benefits include:
the ability to recycle and treat water on site to reduce overall water consumption;
recycling of waste resources and nutrients;
the prevention of sea lice and parasites;
the elimination of fish escape into the sea and co-mingling with wild species;
the application of renewable energy concepts;
a shorter distance to market for a high quality, fresh product, reducing the carbon footprint of air and land transport; and consistent quality
Is RAS and your farm an experimental facility?
Waste water treatment is hardly new; the question is what any given company is willing to invest to be clean. Nordic Aquafarms has recognized the importance of clean food systems, and we have invested accordingly. Water treatment technologies through-out the facility are tried and proven technologies.
Land-based facilities are hardly new either. There are dozens of large facilities internationally, with the highest concentrations in Norway. Currently, new facilities are announced almost weekly. As confidence in these systems have continued to grow, investor confidence and size of facilities have also grown. The new development in the past 5 years is that an increasing number of companies have been taking fish to harvest size in these systems as an alternative to net pens.
Experience is important. Nordic Aquafarms is the only land-based grow-out producer internationally with three large facilities in operation. We are the only land-based producer with 15 specialized engineers employed. Our senior staff has raised salmon for decades. All our designs are modular with independent tank systems. When we increase the size of our facilities, we are simply just adding more modules. Thus, this method is hardly new to us and the US facilities will be developed in phases over time by adding modules.
Currently, there are many announcements of plans for commercial land-based farms. Start-ups have a long learning curve. We have gone through much of this learning curve in the past years. Among the companies announcing new land-based facilities, we therefore have a unique experience base. We also draw on the extensive experience-base in Norway and Denmark. For these reasons, Nordic Aquafarms is also in a unique position to finance our projects compared to other start-ups in this segment.
What about the CO2 footprint?
Currently, over 90% of fresh salmon is airfreighted into the US with a CO2 footprint three times our local CO2 footprint. We reduce our footprint further by employing renewable energy solutions. A fresh local product with much less CO2 is environmentally sensible and important in terms of creating sustainable domestic food systems in the US. The Humboldt facility will displace a portion of imports with a local craft seafood product.
Source: SINTEF and the Freshwater Institute, 2016
The lowest CO2 footprint would come from wild salmon fishing or local net pen production. We do not see potential for significant growth of either in the US in the coming decades. That leaves land-based production as the cleanest alternative to grow domestic supply.
We realize that any large new developments could result in questions and sometimes concerns. Below are some general questions with answers about Nordic Aquafarms and its operations.
Why should Nordic Aquafarms care about the environmental concerns?
Consumers, businesses and responsible policy makers increasingly care about the environment. As we see it, the businesses of the future must incorporate both social responsibility and financial objectives to be truly successful in the long-term. Institutions such as Harvard also point to this as a business model for the future.
Our brand and future certifications are highly sensitive to our environmental stewardship practices. Businesses that do not stick to their permits, will be punished in the market and may lose their sustainability certifications. Businesses who take leadership on environmental stewardship are increasingly rewarded. That is why we are investing heavily in environmental technologies and also taking clear steps to prove that we are dedicated to protecting the environment.
Humboldt was chosen for its access to clean water resources both from the Mad River and from the Humboldt Bay. Our production requires clean water to produce high quality fish. We have every incentive to be an environmentalist in California to ensure clean water in the future.
Will the facility have any impact on wild salmon populations?
In Humboldt, we are still considering what species to produce, and the final decision will be made after dialog with stakeholders and regulators in California. The answer below is an answer we have prepared for Maine, but the general descriptions are still valid for an operation on the West coast regardless of species.
The reason the Atlantic Salmon Federation has written a letter of support for our project in Maine is that its scientific review of our application concludes that there will be little impact from our farm, and that it can contribute to taking pressures of wild salmon populations. Our biosecurity and fish escape measures are foremost in the industry. We also take the hosts for sea lice out of the ocean to prevent growth in potentially harmful parasite populations.
Some people prefer wild salmon. Wild salmon is a great product. The fact of the matter is that wild salmon populations have been under huge pressure for many years with strictly regulated fishing quotas. Wild Atlantic Salmon is not available. With the worsening state of oceans and human activity that have impacted salmon rivers, the prospects of significant increases in wild salmon runs in the next decades is nowhere in sight. Wild salmon will never come close to fulfilling US demand and the product is not used in sushi/sashimi due to parasite risk. Wild salmon is in many ways a different product than ours with a higher price point. We support efforts to restore salmon runs, meanwhile there is a need to address a large and growing demand gap for salmon.
Can fish escape from your facility?
NO, fish can´t escape from the Nordic Aquafarms facilities.
Fish escape from smolt facilities is extremely rare. Generalizing that fish will escape from a land-based facility displays a lack of understanding of how this is prevented, and clearly lack of understanding how we have addressed such risk. Each facility must be assessed on its own merits and location.
Escape from salmon grow-out facilities has never happened. Our facilities are escape-proof. Multiple mechanical barriers are in place to prevent escape in pipes. To give an example, our final micro-filtration step on the discharge treatment is 0.5 micron – that is fine-masked enough to remove bacteria!
There are at most a couple of known escape episodes from smolt facilities internationally over many years. These facilities have been located right at the shoreline to allow pumping of smolt to well-boats. There are also older facilities around that may not have the same level of escape prevention measures as modern facilities. In such instances and with pumping of fish into well-boats, accidents can potentially happen, although this has been very rare in the industry.
Fish escape is bad PR and contrary to our environmental commitment. Thus, we have a strong incentive to design escape-proof facilities. We have no problem guaranteeing that our facilities are escape-proof, because they are.
Are you discharging over 6 million gallons a day?
When the facility is fully developed after a phased build-out it will discharge over 6 million gallons a day, but the implications of this are often misunderstood. Most of the water discharged comes from the bay, is used in the tank systems, and is rigorously treated before it is returned back into the ocean. Fresh water makes out a low percentage of this and is a small volume compared to the many other sources of fresh water flowing into the bay and ocean today.
Most importantly, the vast majority of nutrients are removed and recycled before the water is returned to the ocean, as our discharge application will show. We asked the Atlantic Salmon Federation, The Conservation Law Foundation and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to do an independent peer review of our discharge application for our project in Maine. They have all written letters of support that are available to the public stating that they do not see any material impact on the Penobscot bay from our residual discharge. These are among the most credible environmental institutions in Maine with strong scientific know-how.
We have a self-interest in monitoring all discharge, in addition to any monitoring requirements put forth by the regulators. We have also stated in public that we will support monitoring programs to promote the overall health of the ecosystem. Our brand is built on an environmental platform, and it would be detrimental to ourselves if we caused any harm to the ocean.
Do you have harmful pesticides or additives in the discharge?
We have stated numerous times that we do not use growth hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, or pesticides in our daily production. We apply many of the same standards as with humans: we vaccinate our fish to prevent disease (by injection), protect our fish against exposure to disease, and would only consider medication in exceptional cases requiring consultation with authorized veterinarians. We produce a natural product and thus do not add any harmful chemicals to the production water. Cleaners and disinfectants are used to clean other parts of the facility and are not directly discharged. We do add a carbon source to our nitrogen reduction system that is consumed by natural nitrogen consuming bacteria. This is thus not discharged and has no impact on the environment.
Could the facility lead to algae blooms?
As we have demonstrated in our previous discharge permit applications, our waste water system removes the bulk of nutrients for recycling. Even though we go far beyond current industry standards by removing 85% nitrogen, we do have elevated levels of nitrogen compared to most back-ground levels. The ammonia component which would be the most harmful one, is lower than background levels in the bay in Maine. This will be carefully studied in California when we apply for our local and state permits. If other dischargers raised their treatment level to only 50 % of our level, we would see material reductions in nutrient discharge.
The Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Conservation Law Foundation have reviewed our application in Maine and not found cause for concern. As far as risk of algae blooms go, there are other contributing factors that pose a far greater risk than our facility. But we will remain diligent in and contributing the health of the bay as a part of our environmental stewardship strategy.
If you have further questions, please send them to us and we will post answers to most questions on our local blog. We also welcome constructive local input as local knowledge is a key ingredient in developing a project like this.