RICHMOND—The ‘Namgis First Nation created its land-based fish farm with the idea of making a positive environmental difference while raising Atlantic salmon for market.
So it was perhaps fitting that Kuterra unveiled its first harvest on Earth Day.
‘Namgis Chief Bill Cranmer joined representatives of Safeway, Sobeys Inc. and Albion Fisheries Tuesday at Albion’s Richmond headquarters to present the first fish from its closed-containment farm, located just south of Port McNeill.
As other visitors, guests and media looked on, Cranmer gave a welcome in English and Kwakwala and then sang a Kwakwala celebration song before presenting the ceremonial first fish to Safeway, Sobeys executive Renée Hopfner.
“The effects of conventional farming on the marine environment are very real to us,” Cranmer said. “This enterprise shows the way forward for the industry. It also fits with our economic plans and with our history as a fishing and trading people.”
Kuterra announced late last year a marketing agreement with Albion, which processes both wild and farm-raised salmon at several B.C. processing plants.
“Albion is an industry leader in sustainability,” says Albion CEO John Milobar. “Kuterra Atlantic salmon takes seafood sustainability to a new level, and — thanks to growing market demand and exceptional quality fish — Kuterra shows all the signs of becoming a commercial success.”
Albion used Tuesday’s conference to announce its agreement with Sobeys, which will market the fish in its 140 Safeway seafood departments across Western Canada. A smaller percentage of the salmon will be marketed by Albion to higher-end markets and restaurants.
“Today’s announcement is a key step toward our company’s commitment to source all fresh and frozen seafood from sustainable sources,” said Chuck Mulvenna, President of Operations for Safeway, Sobeys Inc.
Kuterra employees and contractors completed the first market harvest from the farm Saturday. About 1,300 fish, averaging about 3.5 kilograms each, were taken from the project’s initial cohort of 23,000 smolts, provided by Marine Harvest Canada 13 months earlier.
Harvests will continue approximately every two weeks, with Albion expected to purchase 600,000 pounds of Atlantic salmon this year.
The $8.5-million Kuterra project is owned entirely by the ‘Namgis First Nation and was built with funding and/or project support from the federal government, Tides Canada, the Save Our Salmon (SOS) Marine Conservation Foundation and other philanthropic organizations.
It utilizes recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) technology used to raise other fish species in North America, but the fish farm is the first land-based system designed for commercial-scale production of Atlantic salmon in Canada.
Ground was broken in 2012 on ‘Namgis-owned land for construction of the first of what could ultimately become five modules, producing 2,350 metric tonnes of salmon at full capacity.
Marine Harvest Canada has utilized RAS technology to grow Atlantic salmon at its Fresh Water Farms facility in Duncan. The facility has been used primarily for brood stock and smelt production, but the company says the capital investment and requirements for fresh water and power make it an uneconomical model compared to the open net-pen farms it operates on the B.C. Coast.
Kuterra directors acknowledge the higher start-up cost of land-based salmon farming. But they believe premium pricing, rapid technological advances, and the eventual possibilities of marketing waste for agricultural use and of growing the plant’s own food through an aquaponics facility, will make land-based farming not only viable, but financially successful.
“We want to dispel myths about land-based salmon aquaculture, we want to make a healthy profit, and we want to be a model of sustainable business and job creation,” said Garry Ullstrom, Kuterra CEO. “Our success will help catalyze the evolution of the industry, and meet the growing demand for high-quality, sustainable seafood.”