Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Debate over Land-Based Salmon Farms

Currently, there is a very strong debate in British Columbia regarding land-based salmon farms: if this technology exists, why isn’t the industry adopting it?  On-land recirculation systems separate farmed salmon from the natural environment, thus removing any potentially harmful environmental effects that may stem from open net-cages.  Wastes from the farmed fish can be collected and treated rather than being released into the marine ecosystem.  Additionally, any diseases or parasites can be screened for and monitored much more closely, thus protecting both the farmed stock as well as the wild fauna.

However, there are several key points that must be addressed in this debate.  The first is that land-based systems are extremely expensive, both to build and to operate.  By their very nature, a land-based recirculation system is much more capital-intensive to set up than a net-pen operation: tanks, pipes, pumps, filters, the land itself, a building if necessary...these are all costs that net-pen operations do not have to cope with.  Add into the equation the cost of electricity and the overall carbon footprint of the facility, and suddenly land-based systems are not looking as attractive.

There is a fantastic report by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2010) that states that while land-based recirculation systems may be economically viable, their high operating costs make them extremely sensitive to fluctuations in market conditions (the price of salmon, the price of electricity/water, etc.): the margins are so small that a tiny shift in the market may be all that is necessary for the system to lose its profitability.

While it may not be possible for the salmon industry in BC to adopt these systems immediately, there is hope on the horizon.  As I write this, researchers and engineers are working hard to continue developing these technologies with the sole purpose of increasing efficiency and decreasing operating costs.  Additionally, by implementing other sustainable farming methods (aquaponics, solar/wind power, etc.) the operating costs can be reduced even further. 

It is my opinion that these systems are inherently better than the current practices, but unfortunately we are simply not yet prepared to adopt them. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Aquaponics Makes a Splash at TED Talks

A few weeks ago, a staff member from the Institute of Aquaculture gave a fantastic presentation on aquaponics at an independently-organized ‘TED’ event in England.  As you may know, TED events consist of short 20-minute seminars given by experts in a number of fields, but presented in a way so as to be accessible and understandable to everyone.  Businesspeople, scientists, artists, you name it...every speaker has an innovative topic and the presentations are always interesting!

Charlie Price is one of the founding members of Aquaponics UK, a social enterprise that works as a consulting firm for aquaponics projects around the globe.  Before deciding to do my MSc dissertation on aquaculture insurance, I was in talks with Charlie to join his team for my dissertation work!

Charlie’s TED Talk covers the basics of aquaponics and explains how a well-designed system operates exactly like a natural ecosystem, with the wastes being recycled and used by other organisms.  He then walks through a facility that his company designed and built in London- fish, chickens, plants, and even flies are all cultivated together in a harmonious environment that people can actually visit and learn more about! 

Aquaponics is a reliable and versatile way to significantly reduce the impacts that aquaculture has on the environment.  And as Charlie describes, as you include more species in the system, it becomes cleaner, more productive, more efficient, and ultimately more profitable!

Charlie’s TED Talk can be viewed here:

For more information about TED Conferences, or to watch TED Talks, please visit:

Aquaculture Insurance MSc Dissertation

My MSc dissertation focuses on aquaculture stock mortality insurance in the United Kingdom and Ireland, working to identify the attitudes and perceptions that fish farmers have regarding this specialized product.  This study will provide a bridge between fish farmers and insurance companies to identify the accessibility and appropriateness of currently available stock mortality insurance policies.  It is expected that the conclusions of this study will help increase the suitability and value of future stock mortality products.

There is a short on-line questionnaire to be completed by fish farmers: it will take less than 15 minutes to fill out.  The questionnaire is available at the following website: