Just when a competitor is dismissing the technology, Blue Star Foods plans to invest close to $500 million in land-based fish farming over the next decade.
Last June, the Florida-based seafood company purchased Nanaimo’s Taste of BC Aquafarms, which has been researching and developing the technology to grow steelhead salmon in tanks on land. Along the way, the company faced many problems and challenges.
Founder Steve Atkinson says that by 2018, they had worked out most of the bugs. In 2020, the company turned a small profit for the first time, marketing its steel salmon under the Little Cedar Falls brand.
Following the sale to Blue Star, Atkinson will stay on as managing director of Taste of BC Aquafarms. The Little Cedar Falls brand will also continue.
By spring of 2022, Blue Star hopes to be breaking ground on its first scaled-up land-based steelhead farm with a targeted capacity of 1,500 tonnes of fish per year. Although Atkinson says it’s too early to tell exactly where the facility will be located, the company’s preferred location is a property in Deep Bay, between Bowser and the Buckley Bay ferry terminal.
Atkinson believes the time is right for land-based closed containment, given the federal government’s recent commitment to remove all open net-pen fish farms from BC waters by 2025.
Time will tell. In the past land-based fish farming has faced numerous challenges, from managing water quality, to the high cost of the power to pump water and lighting to grow fish on land.
In 2013, the ‘Namgis First Nation launched Kuterra, North America’s first land-based fish farm, with funding support from the government and several non-profit environmental foundations. It was meant as a demonstration project but was too small to be profitable. I
In 2019, the ‘Namgis signed a 15-year lease agreement with an American investment company Emergent Holdings, which through its subsidiary Whole Oceans, is developing a large-scale land-based fish farm on the east coast of the US.
The half-billion-dollar investment may be just the jolt this new industry needs.