Sustainable Blue hitches on global demand for local fish

Published August 29, 2016 - 4:45pm

Sustainable Blue hitches on global demand for local fish

Changing consumer tastes leaves N.S. sea-free salmon farm set for fast growth

The CEO of the first firm in the world to farm saltwater salmon on land says his company is set for fast growth on the back of rising global demand for locally and sustainably-sourced fish.

Sustainable Blue’s Kirk Havercroft told the Chronicle Herald that increasing devastation of the world’s oceans was compelling a growing proportion of global consumers to seek out and pay a premium for fish produced closer to its point of sale — and with no or relatively little risk to the environment.

Located near Centre Burlington on 55 acres of woodland a short but nonetheless significant 500 metres from the Bay of Fundy, Sustainable Blue’s landlocked and high tech ‘closed-containment’ facility uses propriety technology to sustainably grow Atlantic salmon without antibiotics — arguably a powerful differentiator in the eyes of increasingly discerning and eco-conscious consumers.

Meanwhile, rendering the farm free from the sea removes the risk of its organically-fed fish escaping into the Atlantic and breeding with wild salmon — another common complaint against Nova Scotia’s sea-based salmon farms.

Last autumn, Sustainable Blue began selling its first-ever harvest of 10 tonnes to Nova Scotian restaurants and retailers and to a high-end restaurant broker in Toronto.

Havercroft said the salmon retailed at approximately $6 to $7 a pound more than its sea-caged equivalents, a gap Havercroft expects to shrink over time as Sustainable Blue recoups eight years of startup costs.

Soon after, the firm won a strong endorsement from the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre, which said its proven and “world-leading technology” had defied the aquaculture industry’s long-time skepticism regarding the commercial viability of land-based salmon farms.

Havercroft said Sustainable Blue would increase capacity from 100 to 185 tonnes a year when it completed construction of a new production module this month. In 2017, he expects the company to produce about 150 tonnes of salmon.

In addition, Havercroft said the company is currently breaking ground on a 500-tonne unit located on company-owned land beside the existing facility.

And sometime during the next few years, Havercroft expects Sustainable Blue to expand into inland locations near larger Canadian cities, including some on the Prairies.

He said the company’s technology meant there was now no reason why fish lovers in large, landlocked cities like Calgary and Las Vegas couldn’t have fresh product delivered by short-haul trucks rather than long-haul planes — a cut in transport-related emissions that would position the brand and methodology even more favourably with consumers.

Overall, Havercroft estimates North American demand for land-grown salmon at about 40,000 tonnes per year. Current supply was at best a trickle, he said.

“Clearly, this is a commercially viable industry. We’ve seen that in the growth rates we’ve achieved and the data we’ve collected to date. We’ve shown we can grow premium Atlantic salmon here at a price which is extremely attractive to our target market in large volumes.”

He said he expected Sustainable Blue to begin turning a profit in a year — not a bad current bill of health for a firm that came close to death in March 2014, when a still-unexplained power failure killed its entire crop of nearly-ready fish.

Sustainable Blue was founded by specialist Dr. Jeremy Lee, a British-born-and-bred Dalhousie University aquaculture and water treatment specialist, in 2007.

Two years later, the company started growing fish commercially, beginning with European sea bass and bream before switching to Atlantic salmon in 2013.

Both Lee and Havercroft, who is also British, were attracted to Atlantic Canada by the region’s apparent environmental consciousness and preference for locally-produced fish.

The seven-employee company, which has received repayable loans from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the province, is one of about four known firms in the world currently farming fish in land-based closed environments.