Canada's biggest seafood aquaculture company says many problems will have to be solved before salmon can be raised commercially on land.
Cooke Aquaculture reacted on Tuesday to claims made this week by some attending a conference at the Atlantic Salmon Federation near St. Andrews.
Bill Cramner, chief of the Namgis First Nation in British Columbia, used a workshop to explain how he is growing Atlantic salmon without the fish ever seeing the ocean.
The Namgis closed-containment facility on Vancouver Island is the first salmon farm in North America to grow Atlantic salmon on a commercial scale in a completely land-based aquaculture system.
Cranmer said the salmon from his facility are fetching a 30-per-cent premium on the price because it is raised in a way that is environmentally sustainable.
Scientists, researchers and industry experts at the conference hope the same practice can be used to produce fish on a large scale commercial basis.
Mitchell Dickie, project manager for freshwater systems with Cooke Aquaculture, said that's a huge leap.
Dickie said the fresh water required to recirculate in a tank system amounts to approximately 8,000 litres per minute for a single, commercial-scale farm.
And any disease that enters the system would spread immediately, he says.
"You can't guarantee there's no disease in a recirculated land based system so it's good to prepare for that," said Dickie.
Space, water supply challenges
Neil Halse, Cooke's vice-president for communications, said the company has 20 years experience with land-based recirculating aquaculture systems.
Cooke Aquaculture grows salmon in sea cages in Canada, the United States, Europe and South America.
For the most part, its land-based operations involve small-scale hatcheries for breeding purposes, however, Halse points to its hatchery in Oak Bay that also raises thousands of breeding stock to full size, on land, in freshwater tanks.
"It's not just [about] the technology, we know how to do it," Halse said.
Halse said to put all of its New Brunswick operations on land would require between 4,000 and 5,000 indoor tanks.
"So you have to imagine where you will find the land to do all this tank farming," said Halse.
"And the water supply is even more important."
Halse said land systems also require a tremendous amount of energy to power recirculating pumps. She says her company's experience has shown consumers would not be willing to pay a premium on the price of fresh salmon raised on land.
The Canadian aquaculture industry has been around for a little over 30 years. The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance estimates the industry generates more than $2 billion annually and employs nearly 15,000 people from coastal and rural communities.
The Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries said aquaculture sales were worth $192 million in 2012 and the sector created about 1,150 jobs. Salmon represents 96.5 per cent of the province’s aquaculture sales.
Salmon aquaculture has had its share of problems in the past, such as disease, sea lice, shock from sudden temperature changes and escapes into the wild.