Thursday, July 20, 2017

21/07/2017: RAS: An alternative way forward for salmon production

by Ben Green MA (Cantab), CEO The Supreme Salmon Co, UK

After 44 years of growing Salmonids in general, and 28 years of rearing salmon in RAS systems in particular, I would hope to have gained some wisdom but I have certainly discovered a lot of my own foolhardiness

Image credit: The Supreme Salmon Co
Fish farming is a very unforgiving business and it peers into the depths of one’s soul at times but who wants a boring life in an office when there are so many exciting challenges to be had in RAS? I luckily grew some RAS large salmon in the early 1990s and then spent the next 20 years finding the best way of doing it on purpose; and there’s still plenty of system design upgrades to do.

I’ve been working away in isolation on a course of parallel evolution and my RAS systems are very different from the systems being sold by other companies but they work well and are profitable enough to supply me with a reasonable living. In this article I will lay out a blueprint of how a successful salmon RAS project can be implemented.

It’s not very exciting, it won’t be making millions of dollars from thousands of tonnes of production but it won’t be a spectacular loss of money either. The salmon farming industry started in a small way 50 years ago using tiny hatcheries and wooden sea cages, a lot of the knowledge we have now was gained in those early days. This has to be the same with RAS; if it can’t be made to work on a small scale with a pilot unit then it’s a big gamble to hope the economies of scale will make a project viable.

Laying the Groundwork

There have been many words printed on the successful implementation of entrepreneurial projects so I won’t study them here but there are some points that apply specifically to this kind of project. Choose the right species. I’ve concentrated on Salmonids. Why? Mostly because I’m fascinated by them! Staff have to be motivated to care for the stock but salmon also have a high value and a large existing market.

It doesn’t make sense to grow a warm water species when the temperature can drop to -10C outside, because that’s massive built-in vulnerability for a start. My farms have been located not far from London.

This was a disadvantage when I was selling salmon fry to customers in Scotland 500 miles away, but a massive advantage when I can get fish to the London Billingsgate fish market within hours of harvesting them. One of the advantages of RAS is its small environmental footprint so why locate hundreds or even thousands of miles from your customers?

Finance is a big subject; the initial cost can be reduced to a fraction if care is taken. I can expand with capital derived from existing profits but only because I do all the construction myself. The farms I supply for clients are in kit form; they supply the infrastructure and construct the tanks etc. themselves, cutting out the expense of outside contractors.

That way the operators also have an intimate knowledge of how their equipment functions and it’s ‘theirs’. Large companies usually have an underused site somewhere and underemployed labour at certain times of the year. New entrants can get a bargain by finding a site where a badly conceived project has gone bust! The money invested in a project has to be recovered from profits, the penny pinching has to start right at the beginning, large grants and generous investors lead to a profligate mind-set. Start modestly and expand prudently in a new and largely untested field of endeavour. Be adaptable to the local planning laws.

Here in England, any farming enterprise is allowed to take 20cu m of water from an aquifer per day without a license and erect a 400sq m building without planning. That’s enough for a 50 tonne salmon RAS unit, so maybe a series of small units is a better way to go. A geographical spread may help with the local marketing too.

Read the full article, HERE.

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