Opin­ion

Fish Farmer - - Contents – Editor’s Welcome - By Nick Joy

VERY early in my ca­reer, in the face of the usual bar­rage of crit­i­cism from the wild salmonid sec­tor, some­one started to talk about grow­ing salmon on land. I was lucky then, as now, to have good friends in the in­dus­try to dis­cuss ideas and de­bate the best ways for­ward.

Although some of them thought it was in­evitable that the in­dus­try was pushed that way, oth­ers, me in­cluded, felt that ac­ced­ing to pres­sure to do some­thing il­log­i­cal would be counter-pro­duc­tive in the long run. I don’t think things have changed.

Let us as­sume that there was no anti-salmon farm­ing lobby; would any­one even con­sider grow­ing salmon on land?

Un­less you have come up with some an­swer that I have not spot­ted, the only rea­son for on­shore salmon farm­ing is as a re­sponse to crit­i­cism, hardly the best rea­son for a busi­ness.

Imag­ine sug­gest­ing to a po­ten­tial fun­der of such a project what is in­volved in this type of farm­ing.

Firstly, we are go­ing to build an ex­tremely com­pli­cated, highly tech­ni­cal and ex­tremely ex­pen­sive in­fra­struc­ture.

This will need to be de­signed to be highly re­li­able, highly flex­i­ble and main­tain an ex­tremely sta­ble en­vi­ron­ment.

Then we are go­ing to stock it to a very high level, nec­es­sary in order to make a profit.

These stock­ing lev­els mean that any er­ror by sys­tem or operator make it likely that there will be fish losses.

So to en­sure the high­est stan­dards of op­er­a­tion, we will need the best of tech­nol­ogy but also the high­est stan­dard of staff, both ex­pen­sive.

In order to main­tain good chem­i­cal qual­ity water for the fish, we will need to main­tain com­plex bi­o­log­i­cal sys­tems in sea­wa­ter, or the build of waste ma­te­ri­als will af­fect fish per­for­mance or even kill them.

Feed­ing and feed mon­i­tor­ing must also be of the high­est order or this will over­load the sys­tem too.

In­fra­struc­ture op­er­at­ing costs will be very high as well be­cause large amounts of water have to be pumped about. En­ergy re­quire­ment for this type of farm­ing can­not be any­thing but high.

Our imag­i­nary fun­der may well ask what the mar­ket for this prod­uct will be.Well, I don’t know if you no­ticed in the April is­sue of Fish Farmer [‘ Land reared salmon tastes like…salmon’] but a pack of salmon from such a farm was shown at £25.90/kg, hardly a snip.

Even when com­pet­ing with salmon prices at their high­est this is hardly a small dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion.The price is close to dou­ble the near­est com­pet­ing prod­uct.

Just to em­pha­sise this, the pack shown of­fered fil­let of 0.36kg for £9.20. It re­minds me very much of No Catch Cod when it was on the mar­ket.

I am sure that in my imag­i­nary con­ver­sa­tion, I would be ar­gu­ing that scal­ing up will bring the costs down.

But that would de­pend on a mar­ket large enough to take a con­sid­er­able in­crease, as well as the abil­ity to man­age an in­crease in com­plex­ity.

The fun­der would surely ask whether a large mar­ket ex­ists for such an ex­treme dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion.

But, some­where, there is a charis­matic entreprene­ur and a will­ing fun­der be­cause projects are get­ting funded and are de­vel­op­ing.

The ques­tion for me is not whether they will suc­ceed but whether they are a way for­ward for our in­dus­try in the long term.

It is not just about risk be­cause although on­shore farm­ing de­creases the risk of sea lice and so on, it in­creases the risks in other ways.

So it could be ar­gued that the risks at sea bal­ance out the risks on land (but I wouldn’t try to make that ar­gu­ment).

The rea­sons for its fu­ture demise will be multi-fac­to­rial. Firstly, an in­dus­try’s ex­is­tence must be pred­i­cated on more than the fact that its com­peti­tors are be­ing crit­i­cised.

What if the crit­i­cism even­tu­ally proves to be un­founded? The sim­ple truth is that time will show whether the crit­i­cism is true. If not, there is no ba­sis for such a dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion.

The next is that its costs will al­ways be higher than its com­peti­tors’ and so will its en­ergy use.

In the fu­ture, it is highly likely that protein pro­duc­tion will be mea­sured on its en­ergy con­sump­tion.

In a world where en­ergy use will come un­der in­creas­ingly in­tense fo­cus, this form of farm­ing will be ex­posed by the very peo­ple who pres­sured its for­ma­tion.

I will not go into the wel­fare is­sues of higher stock­ing den­si­ties or the his­tory of ma­jor losses in this in­dus­try, but the pop­u­lar­ity of feed­lot beef or in­ten­sive egg or milk pro­duc­tion should warn against this form of farm­ing from a mar­ket per­spec­tive.

As long as pro­grammes such as Panorama pro­duce bi­ased per­spec­tives, there will be peo­ple who think this is the fu­ture. I wish no ill of those who chase this du­bi­ous dream, but I think you can­not pred­i­cate a vi­able fu­ture on the ut­ter­ings of a small group of vo­cif­er­ous

peo­ple.

“The ques­tion is not whether they will suc­ceed but whether they are a way for­ward for our in­dus­try ”

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