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A NEW report by Canada’s federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has provided further information on the viability of closed containment production systems for salmon farming.

The Feasibility Study of Closed-Containment Options for the British Columbia Aquaculture Industry, is one of the follow-up steps to a 2008 report titled Potential Technologies for Closed-Containment Saltwater Salmon Aquaculture by the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat. This latest report assesses the economics of these different technologies.

Of nine technologies, the report quickly identifies the current standard of net pen ocean systems and recirculating on-land aquaculture systems as the only two technologies likely to show positive returns.

Capital expenses however, between the two are significantly different - as is the potential stability of the business once constructed. According to DFO's assessment, the capital costs for net pen operations would sit around $2,000 per tonne of product, while land-based closed containment systems would raise that price to over $9,000/t, with no increase in return.

The British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association says its members recognize that investment is important to the improvement and high standard of operations in the province.  While the significantly higher cost is of note, what is also of concern is the instability that the report highlights.

The analysis shows that any revenues from closed-containment facilities would be much more susceptible to exchange rates, for example, with change significantly impacting income. The systems, once employed, would also have little flexibility to natural fluctuations in the price of salmon - with small variations putting businesses in the red.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association comments: “This is a concern for the businesses, and for the communities that have come to count on the 6,000 jobs generated by the BC Salmon Farming industry. Not being able to provide stability would threaten the future of those jobs.

“Even if the economics balanced though, there are other keys to sustainability that need to be addressed. Some of those are noted as part of this analysis, though not in detail. The first is the reminder that there has been no successful project at a commercial scale using recirculating closed containment technology.

“Another is the large footprint that would be required if it were to be considered. The 2,500 tonne farm used as a sample in this study would require an 8.09 hectare land base. That would have to be multiplied by 40 to reach the production levels achieved now in farms that currently fit within Stanley Park's boundaries.

“The final point is fish health. While farms in the ocean operate at relatively low fish densities of 15kg/m3, to make the closed containment project profitable at all would require densities up around 50 kg/m3. This will be challenging for our salmon health and welfare.

“The authors of this report conclude that, with the financial challenges now laid out, the next logical steps would include a pilot project at commercial scale with a full life-cycle analysis done at that facility.

“Our member companies are already leading the way in some of this research - and we agree with their sentiment. We understand the technology very well - BC farmed salmon are currently raised in land-based recirculating systems for one-third of their life.

“The suggestion of full life-cycle closed-containment warrants further investigation, but there is a lot more information that is is needed before it can be considered a viable alternative. In the meantime, its risks need to be considered as we discuss the future of our business.”

To read the full DFO report, click here.

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