TRANSCRIPT - Rob
Rob Walker is the Director of Operations for Agrimarine
Industries Inc. in British Columbia.
Why are you trying to grow salmon in these tanks?
fascinated with the experience. There are a lot of issues with net
cage farms in this province and also around the world. There are
a lot of environmentalists, as I'm sure you and your audience are
aware of, but there are issues beyond just the immediate environmental
impact. Predator issues are a big one. We are being separated, physically
separated, from the marine environment. We don't have to worry about
airborne or marine predators.
are a lot of disease issues as part of the environment that we're
concerned with. You've probably heard lots of stories recently of
the IHN outbreaks in Atlantic salmon farms? We hope to be able to
avoid those disease outbreaks by being able to filter, in some way,
the incoming water, by probably using technology such as ultraviolet
rays to clean the water and sanitize it. There are opportunities
here in British Columbia to distinguish our farming systems from
what goes on in the rest of the world.
are not many land-based farms going on. There have been a few experimental
farms in seawater, lots of freshwater land-based farms but not seawater.
With the number of salmon being grown in the world right now, British
Columbia has been declining for a number of years because of the
moratorium. How do we catch up? Well, let's look for a market niche,
and this happens to be a very good one. We can promote both salmon
farming and new technology land-based farming at the same time.
really isn't commercially viable as yet, but what is the process
here? Is there a learning curve?
This farm is a pilot project and as such has provided us with a
very steep learning curve. As I mentioned earlier, the land-based
farm systems are really not prevalent in the world of aquaculture.
Information from other farms is not really available to us so we're
relearning or recreating the wheel in a lot of cases, but it's been
exciting from day one here. Every day brings a new challenge. Things
like oxygen usage, water flow, water temperatures, what's in the
water, the incoming water, and what were putting out there. All
these questions need to be answered.
are a lot of challenges for us. We've learned a lot, but we really
feel like we have a long way to go as well. In terms of economic
viability, we are too small here to really make any money, but I
think we can take what we've learned here and expand it to a commercial
size. That is the next step for us, designing a commercial scale
facility. As a pilot, first of all, one large tank would be very
helpful for us to learn more about how to make me commercially viable,
but that will be what we'll do next to try and make the economics
expressed frustration with other countries that are working on this
because they are not sharing the information. What would ideally
create the most cooperation?
the best case, it would be wonderful to have an association where
we could meet two or three times a year and discuss what each of
us has done and what progress had been made. We could try not to
repeat the same mistakes. I think it would be terrific. There are
probably a number of academic groups that get together, but as far
as commercial salmon farming, generally a lot of this is proprietary
information and businesses don't like to share that sort of thing
very often. We're all better off if we do share and we don't have
to repeat the same mistakes. We don't lose economically that way
and we can all progress together.
is a pilot project, but how many years down the pipe might this
be for Agrimarine in terms of being a commercially viable output?
mandated; we have a five-year project here. The provincial government
granted us a five-year approval to run this facility, but the economics
will probably drive us towards developing a commercial system much
more quickly than that. We are working on it right now. We're working
with a number of design teams to put this together. We would dearly
love to have a commercial facility by this time next year. I shouldn't
say a commercial facility, but rather a commercial scale pilot.
I need to stress that because we're really not to the point where
we could go full scale commercial yet, but if we could get a pilot
project commercial scale in the water by this time next year, we
would be very happy. So we're looking for money.
we talking five years or ten years off?
we get through a commercial scale pilot successfully, I would suggest
that we could be building, or operating, a full-scale commercial
facility in five years. That's if things move in the right direction
for us. There are a lot of hoops to jump through, of course, we
just don't know enough yet about citing criteria. For instance,
you don't just plunk a salmon farm down wherever you want to. There
are a lot of regulatory hoops and also a lot of environmental concerns.
We need to know what is in the environment; what sort of impact
we're going to have. We also need to know what's incoming; what's
in the water out there? Is it full of disease-causing pathogens?
We don't know about that or things like oxygen levels. All those
environmental tests need to be run way ahead of time before we're
sure that we have the right site. So that work needs to be done.
A lot of feasibility work needs to be done ahead of time.
you do this new commercial scale pilot project, might you look into
ultraviolet to treat the effluents before they return to the water?
quality is a huge issue in any salmon-farming endeavor, and particularly
in a closed containment system such as we have here. We need to
protect our fish from anything that comes in and we need to protect
the marine environment from whatever we generate within our system.
In a commercial facility, we would be looking at treatment of incoming
and outgoing water, probably using ultraviolet technology for things
like pathogens. In terms of outgoing water, we want to get involved
with filtration of some kind, probably mechanical because of the
high water flows we are dealing with. For instance, swirl separators
or rotary filters are the kinds of technologies that are available
now. We need to be working with waste management people who are
used to dealing with very high flows such as a city flow of water.
The volume of what we're talking about here is very, very large.
So there are some pretty large technological challenges to make
our way through before we are there.
are you going to compete with a bunch of net cage operations, with
the salmon world market flooded with salmon, when you have an overhead
have to look at cost with a wider view. There are economic costs,
definitely that we have to deal with, but there are also large environmental
costs, and you have to bring those into the equation. Environmental
issues are widespread. People are becoming more and more aware of
human impact on this earth. If we can protect the environment in
some way by doing this, that is a reduction in cost. It's not a
dollar cost, but in terms of what we're giving as a legacy to our
grandchildren, a big cost. We want to make sure that we reduce our
impact as much as possible. That will have an economic cost.
have to address that through education of the buying public. People
need to know what their food source is all about, what food chain
is involved. Actually we're seeing more and more interest that way.
People are freeing up their pocketbooks a little bit more to buy
quality food products. We're heading for a clean food chain, in
terms of agriculture using fertilizers and so on. We don't use fertilizers
and we don't use growth hormones. There are lots of rumors about
that. We stay away from that sort of thing, but we want our fish
to be as clean as we can make them. You and I talked earlier about
the antibiotic usage, and I spoke to that as a very interesting
issue. We need to protect our fish's health. That is paramount to
the success of a place like this.
can say we'll save the environment by not feeding our fish antibiotics,
but at the same time if we destroy a lot of fish that destroys our
economic well-being which means we cannot continue. So in the short
term, we need to protect that. In the long term, maybe through selective
breeding programs, we can grow fish that have better resistance
to outside pathogens or outside disease vectors, whatever they happen
to be. There are a lot of environmental acts or protective acts
that we can do on our own to really help the long-term viability
of this sort of facility. Once we get the public on site, and they're
already starting to roll there, then I think it will continue. People
will start to pay a higher price for something that comes from an
environment such as this, compared to other areas like net cage
farming for instance.
should address that issue. The net-cage farming itself is getting
better and better at protecting the marine environment. We talked
about Creative Salmon earlier. They're doing a fabulous job on organic
salmon. They're feeding only organic and they are also really low
density in the fish cages. That will bring a much higher cost because
they're not growing as many fish. The economies of scale aren't
there, but the quality of fish and the environmental protection
is there. Their fish is going to be somewhat higher priced, just
like ours. We're both heading in the same direction and the costs
are going to go up until the industry switches over. Then the economies
of scale kick in again and the cost will come down.
do you grow the fish in tanks?
not for money. Agrimarine is all about chasing sustainable aquaculture.
We're really interested in prolonging this industry and we see land-based
farming as one really good route to go toward sustainability. We
love the concept of having control over the environment in which
we grow our fish and that's really key to proper husbandry. The
more controls you have, the better the product you can put out.
We feel that we're working towards that and taking a lot of steps
before we're really comfortable saying we're there, but I think
we're headed in the right direction.