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Norwegian firm wants to build closed barrier salmon farm in B.C.

Akvafuture system isolates farmed fish from the ocean to minimize wild-farmed interactions
An Akvafuture salmon farm in Norway.

A Norwegian company that claims to have fixed the problem of farmed salmon interacting with wild salmon -- and sharing viruses and sea lice -- hopes to soon apply for licences and tenures for its first closed barrier system salmon farm in B.C.

Akvafuture, a small Norwegian salmon farming innovator, developed a closed barrier system that looks like an open-net salmon farm but which completely isolates the farmed fish from the wild in containment “pods.”

These systems have been operating in Norway for several years now.

Dean Trethewey – a former production director for Marine Harvest and Grieg Seafood in B.C. – is Akvafuture’s Canadian managing director.

He said he has been working with B.C. First Nations to find a partner. Once it has secured a partnership agreement with First Nations, the company will apply for provincial tenure and a federal aquaculture licence.

“We have some First Nation partners that want to go forward and now, because of their blessing, we can put the tenure application in,” Trethewey said.

Those licences and tenures are getting hard to come by lately in B.C., at least for conventional open-net salmon farmers. Due to public pressure and perceptions that farmed salmon pose a risk to wild salmon, the Trudeau government aims to phase out open-net salmon farming in B.C.

Trethewey said the Akvafuture design should satisfy the concerns the federal government has over the perceived threat that farmed salmon pose to wild salmon through open-net pens.

“It’s a closed barrier system that floats in the ocean,” he said.

The system sits in the ocean and uses a pump system to draw in seawater, and collects and reuses waste so no pollution enters the ocean.

“We capture all the solids,” Trethewey said. “But onsite we actually process that.

“In Norway, we actually use that as biofuels to power the buses in Bergen. As well we sell it to terrestrial farmers for re-nutrifying their fields.”

“As you collect the solids, you’re still releasing some of the nutrients back into the environment. But because of the high nutrients, we’re doing things with the veterinarian institution where we can grow kelp and mussels on the same farm. So it’s a full circular economy.”

The systems are more expensive to build than open-net salmon farms, but cheaper and less energy intensive than land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). On the other had, they can be more productive because there is lower mortality, Trethewey said. He said the survival rate for salmon raised in the Akvafuture system is about 95 per cent.

The Akvafuture system requires about 3 megawatts of electricity, compared to 15 MW for a similar volume land-based system.

One Akvafuture farm with 10 to 12 pods, producing 4,000 tonnes of salmon every 16 to 18 months, would cost about $20 million. Akvafuture would like to build three or four of these farms in B.C., which would represent an investment in B.C. of $60 million to $80 million.

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