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Sustainable Blue Nets Federal Dollars for Expansion

KINGS COUNTY ADVERTISER  - Kentville, NS

Colin Chisholm
Published on March 08, 2016

The way of the future: Hants aquaculture project nets federal dollars  

CENTRE BURLINGTON - With a $500,000 loan from the federal government, sustainable fish farming company Sustainable Blue is planning to expand its land-based fish farm operation in Centre Burlington.

Those monies will assist with a 65-tonne Atlantic salmon grow-out facility.

“Construction has already begun, we’re probably between a third and a half of the way through,” chief executive officer Kirk Havercroft said. “We think the new facility will be able to take fish around July 1.”

Havercroft said the entire project will cost a total of $1.9 million.

“The funding from ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) is always extremely attractive because it’s interest-free and the repayments are tailored to the individual business case,” he said. “Repayments are given a holiday until revenue from that particular facility kick in, from that point we have 10 years to repay it.”

Sustainable Blue’s current capacity is 100 metric tons of Atlantic salmon every year – the new facility will add another 85, totalling 185.

“Building this facility is really an opportunity for us to showcase the very latest technology platform. It really is a tool to show investors the potential this technology has,” he said.

Havercroft said the fish product currently stays in eastern Canada, from Ontario to Atlantic Canada, but that could expand to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard when the new structure comes online.

Focus on sustainability

The company’s reputation continues to rest on its namesake, despite the high profitability of the controversial open-net pen facilities elsewhere in the province.

“By bringing that operation on land, we are disconnecting aquaculture from the local ocean,” he said. “We don’t discharge, we don’t have any footprint that would be left on the ocean itself. It’s sustainable because we’re protecting wild stocks from diseases, genetic pollution, sea lice, all of those things.”

Havercroft said they’ve considered sustainability from every facet, right down to the fish feed.

“All of the protein and oil (used to feed the fish) comes from recovered processing waste from fish that were destined for human consumption,” he said. “We don’t take a single fish out of the ocean to make feed.”

Havercroft said all of these factors make for a more expensive operation to run.

“If we had a land-based facility that was producing 5,000 or 10,000 metric tons of salmon every year, like cage farms do, our analysis that production costs would be extremely close,” he said. “It’s a scaling issue more than the method of production.”

More expansions planned

Havercroft said they’re already working on plans to expand the operation even further in the next couple of years.

“We intend to put in an even larger unit, which we hope to start building later this year if we complete the financing on that,” he said. “That’ll be a further eight to 10 jobs as well.”

All of the expansions are proposed for the facility in Centre Burlington.

“We always have appreciated the support that ACOA has given us,” he said. “As a new start, high-tech company in the aquaculture sector, it’s difficult raising conventional forms of loan or debt financing. We see it as a vote of confidence in the prospects that this technology has.”

And there are plenty of future opportunities, he said.

“We’re only limited by the amount of land that we own. We would like to see even further expansion beyond in the next three to five years by adding perhaps as much as an extra 1,000 tons of Atlantic Salmon production on the same site,” he said.

“There are things that are attractive in Hants County, the cost of land is relatively low, there is access to ocean if we need to draw the water in to fill the farm initially, we think it is an attractive place to operate from.”

Future of aquaculture

Susanna Fuller, marine co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre says operations like Sustainable Blue are the future of the aquaculture industry, or, at least, they should be.

“The Ecology Action Centre has always been quite supportive of land-based aquaculture operations,” Fuller said. “The primary reason is that all of the environmental externalities are covered in the cost of doing business.”

Open-net pens tend to be quite profitable, she said.

"But that’s because all of the things the fish need to grow, the environment ends up bearing the negative implications,” she said. “With land-based closed containment, all of the things that are issues with open-net pens are taken care of.”

Fuller said Nova Scotia has three land-based, close-containment aquaculture systems already in place, including Sustainable Blue.

The province was number one in the country for a time with closed containment operations, but British Columbia has taken that spot after bringing several new land-based facilities online.

“The difficult part about this is that to make it economically sustainable you have to scale up,” she said. “Your input costs are so much more with closed containment.”

Fuller said she’s hopeful that this is a sign that the new federal regime is looking at investing in more sustainable aquaculture practices.

“I don’t think it means they won’t fund open-net pens, they certainly have in the past,” she said. “If they were to beef up the regulatory field, then I would say it’s a clear sign the government is pushing for more sustainability.”

Fuller says Nova Scotia shouldn’t be shy of its success when it comes to sustainable aquaculture.

“I’d like to see a lot more promotion happening of our closed containment fish farms, like Sustainable Blue,” she said.

Did you know?

Sustainable Blue has been giving its waste products to Abundant Acres, a local organic farm right next door, on a trial basis, to use as fertilizer.