Innovation and environmental responsibility in aquaculture
AquaSeed founder Per Heggelund takes a new approach to aquaculture
John Erik Stacy, Norwegian American Weekly, June 4, 2010
AquaSeed, the company that produces coho salmon in fresh-water tanks, has received several awards for environmental responsibility. On May 11, the company was bestowed an Environmental Excellence award from the Association of Washington Businesses. Also this year, SweetSpring salmon was included on the “Super Green” list of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. This is because the “closed system” methods used by AquaSeed deserve the highest marks awarded by the Watch, as they explain: “Thanks to these innovations, U.S. farmed freshwater coho salmon is a ‘Best Choice,’ while traditional farmed salmon is ranked as ‘Avoid.’” The salmon also contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. So the fish are good for human health and do not harm the ocean.
Per Heggelund, Founder and President of AquaSeed, says that SweetSpring salmon taste like wild caught coho but “perhaps somewhat more delicate.” Currently SweetSpring salmon has been made available to buyers in Vancouver, BC and on the Microsoft Commons in Redmond WA. AquaSeed produces about 100 tons of SweetSpring salmon per year. This may sound like a lot, yet it is a tiny fraction of the world’s $10 billion worth of salmon farmed each year.
But AquaSeed is poised to grow. For one, aquaculture in general has outpaced population growth over the past decades, according to the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture report from 2008. At the same time, we read of how vulnerable the established methods of aquaculture are to disease. In 2008 Chilean salmon farming suffered a serious setback – loosing about 90% of its Atlantic salmon production – due to a virus that swept through netpen operations in costal waters. AquaSeed, with its innovative technology, avoids this kind of risk. “We have tremendous control of the environment in which we grow the fish,” says Heggelund. Their method insures that the farmed fish do not come in contact with diseased fish from the wild – or vice versa. This means double points for the technology since it provides insurance that the fish will come to market while eliminating negative impact on wild populations.
In addition to greater “bio-security” and better environmental footprint, there are more plusses for the AquaSeed. Since their method does not rely on proximity to the ocean, it can be established almost anywhere. This means that operations could provide fresh, healthy fish even to heartland population centers. Reduced transportation and refrigeration costs also boost green credentials up another notch.
Initial investment for fish farming in tanks includes the cost of a treatment system that allows water re-circulation. Ongoing expenses are similar to those for fish-farming in general – primarily the cost of feed and labor – with slightly higher additional energy cost for running pumps and regulating water temperature.
But investment up front can be viewed as insurance down the road for the reason of “bio-security” mentioned earlier. Also, as blowback from land-owners and environmental impact dog coastal operations and impact the cost and availability of netpen permits, investments in on-land operations can be seen as relatively modest. Another consideration is that of declining fish populations in the wild, and the often very negative environmental impacts of the fishing industry.
“I think the industry is in need of technology like ours to move forward,” says Heggelund, who is among the most knowledgeable persons in his industry. His birth certificate alone suggests he knows his fish: he is a native of Andenes at the northern tip of the Andoeya in the traditional fishing islands of the Lofoton/Vesteraalen archipelago of northern Norway. As a young man he studied food sciences at the University of Washington and holds the degrees of M.Sc. in Fisheries and an MBA. He has contributed with scholarly as well as business focused writings since the 1970s. In his career he has witnessed the development of the industry from early experiments to it present position as an important world food supply. With Heggelund’s credentials and the buzz around SweetSpring salmon, industry watchers should sit up and take notice.
Visit sweetspringsalmon.com to learn more – including a clip from NBC nightly news – about the product and awards.
This article was originally published in the June 4, 2010 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.