It’s an interesting coincidence that the same week that Atlantic Sapphire’s dreams of expanding salmon farming on land literally ignited, Rabobank released a major new report outlining the vast potential of marine aquaculture for support the growth of salmon aquaculture.
Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) and offshore farming are both attempts to devise new solutions to the significant geographic and climatic constraints facing aquaculture producers, especially our colleagues in the salmon industry.
Josh Goldman is the founder and CEO of the barramundi breeding group Australis Aquaculture.
Having reached the point where the vast majority of suitable coastal sites are fully exploited, climate risks add a new urgency to the search for potential solutions to support long-term growth in production.
What about the investment and operating costs?
While new approaches to offshore production may have enormous potential, these models, like Recirculating Salmon Aquaculture (RAS) systems, are much more capital intensive than the inshore approach that has boosted the profitability of aquaculture. salmon over the past three decades.
Capital expenditure (CAPEX) per tonne produced for offshore projects identified by Rabobank is two to four times higher than for coastal production.
Operationally, farming in sites exposed to high energy requires new technologies that carry ill-defined risks and uncertain costs. There has been little public analysis to understand them – but pioneer experience suggests that managing essential production flows on offshore farms can be much more difficult and expensive to perform reliably compared to the traditional coastal model. .
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Yet unlike the RAS, the offshore model offers no promise of offsetting these higher costs with lower transportation costs.
Given the interactions between physics and biology that define this challenge, I suspect that success will prove to be more achievable for offshore aquaculture than for large-scale RAS salmon, but the time required to develop and refine these offshore technologies and accumulate experience could be considerable.
As Rabobank warns, “Success is not guaranteed.
The promise of the marine tropics
Accepting the need to increase the supply of seafood and living with the risks inherent in scaling up new technologies for salmon farming in new environments, investors may miss out on the bigger prize and the “Handy fruit” represented by tropical marine aquaculture.
The tropics contain the world’s largest stable thermal coastal zone with conditions suitable for aquaculture. They hold great potential for sustainable agriculture without the need to develop fundamentally new, more expensive and risky technologies.
What is required is extensive experience with new species – barramundi, grouper, pompano and others – which have widely accepted consumer profiles, thrive in warm waters, can be produced on a large scale at low cost and with an acceptable risk for investors. When we examine the yield characteristics available today in aquaculture, we do not see comparable opportunities or as much potential for growth as in the tropics.
When salmon farmers visit Australis farms in central Vietnam, they are often shocked to find themselves in such a familiar setting.
And that is precisely the point.
We benefit from decades of development that have created this proven and highly profitable coastal production model. Applying it to new species in untapped waters may be the best way to ensure aquaculture delivers on its promises for the future.