By Matt Jones
The company is building a land-based Atlantic salmon farm in a former paper mill in the state. Repurposing the paper mill has saved the company a lot of money, according to head of Business Development Ben Willaeur. “Paper-making also involves high intensity water usage and the intake and discharge saltwater so the infrastructure already exists. That reduced our costs tremendously,” Willaeur says.
The farm will create 50-60 jobs directly, as well as a number of indirect jobs through construction or byproduct utilization. The facility is the first of many being planned by Whole Oceans in Maine. CEO Rob Piasio hopes the company could eventually capture 10 percent of the domestic salmon market.
“We’ll achieve that goal by growing numerous farms in different locations in Maine; that will get us to 50,000 metric tons of capacity, or more,” says Willaeur. “But it’s a long-term goal. That could take 20 years, or more, but it’s ultimately something that may happen much sooner than expected.”
While acknowledging that the 50K MT capacity is a very large number relative to what is currently being grown in RAS facilities within and outside the US, Willaeur believes it is something the market can bear. “There is, I think, going to be an awareness that the consumer will bring when they become more familiar with the quality that RAS fish possess in terms of their taste, but also in terms of the fact that they’re taking pressure off an endangered wild species and really have controlled food and water quality.”
Market demand is promising. Whole Oceans says it has already pre-sold 100 percent of its projected inventory. Willaeur downplays competition among RAS producers; instead, he speaks highly about the work done by contemporaries such as Nordic Aquafarms and Atlantic Sapphire in this sector. He believes the market has more than enough room for everyone.
“The industry is dynamic enough that we find most participants consider themselves as partners rather than competitors. Everybody wants each other to be successful. There’s a lot of knowledge-sharing in terms of the growth of the technology and the innovation that’s occurring.”
That collaboration is part of why Willaeur and Piasio, both Maine natives,would like to see the state become a global hub for RAS technology. That hub would be formed both through partnerships with both the industry and academia. The knowledge base of RAS systems incorporates everything from chemistry to biology, electrical and mechanical engineering and international procurement.
“There’s just a myriad of diverse centers of knowledge that we would be looking to recruit, and looking to acclimate specifically to our work. We feel that academic institutions in this state are rising to the occasion and are very interested in producing integrated academic offerings, partnering with industry partners within the state.”