On-land salmon farms have potential, but need more time: Gold River Aquafarms

(Supplied by Gold River Aquafarms Ltd.)

With a transition from open-net pen salmon farms coming in 2025, the president of a land-based salmon farm project says with more time it could be a possible solution.

Gold River Aquafarms Limited is working on getting an on-land steelhead salmon farm up and running. President Robert Walker says the system is fairly simple and is a matter of putting parts together.

“It’s just about containing water in which you grow fish,” said Walker. “We will have two wells, one salt water and one fresh water and we’ll blend them. We’ll use the fresh water in the hatchery area and blended salt water in the juvenile area.

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“We’ll be using the existing warehouses that are on the mill site and they will house a capacity of 3,000 tons a year in production.”

While the system is not yet running, Walker says the advantages become apparent when considering the marine environment.

“I’m very concerned about ocean environments, not just from a pollution aspect, the ocean is really unpredictable and not in good condition,” said Walker. “You see things like acidification and bigger storms, and there are just so many things going on.”

Walker sees land-based farming as a risk-reduction strategy that allows for more control over the rearing environment. However, he says it requires a lot more monitoring and awareness.

“It’s not just water in a box. It’s a lot of water treatment. You have to be really aware of water conditions because these systems hold a lot of biomass,” he said. “Problems do occur and you could lose a cohort of fish very rapidly.

“We mitigate that by segregating each different section within our facility and we have a modular system so we keep multiple cohorts on-site at any time.”

Challenges also include getting permits, the land and the facilities to run these operations, leading to a lengthy process.

“You’re dealing with multiple jurisdictions within the province and the federal government both have departments and ministries that are interested in this sort of thing,” said Walker. “The planning is difficult and finance is all tied into permitting.”

Walker adds they started their planning process about three years ago. Without permits, they cannot get finance and it creates a “chicken and egg” situation.

Despite this, the company feels they are close to getting their aquaculture permit this year, but they have to do more tests in the new year and they are concerned about getting staff to work on the site.

Walker says it could take around 18 months to get the site up and running once they break ground.

With a transition period looming, the BC Salmon Farmers Association wants a more flexible approach and is talking with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Walker says many fish farm associations have ties to inland farms and it could be a future option, but more time is needed.

“Every company that I know of has some relationship with land-based farms. the hatchery system has been around for a long time and that’s all land-based,” he said. “People are taking this very seriously and I think a lot of it has to do with the ocean environment.

“I do think over the next 10 to 20 years you’ll see more land-based facilities coming around.”

Salmon activist Alexandra Morton, however, says the systems are not currently wanted in the industry and feels they will not show up unless open-net pen systems are no longer in the water.

Walker adds he feels the industry has made a lot of changes over the last 30 years and improvements are ongoing.