Profiles
Sometimes you can see the future by looking to the past.  Connecticut shellfish farmer Bren Smith would walk by a mural on the wall of the Madison post office that depicts farmers gathering seaweed from the beaches of Long Island Sound in the 1930s. “I didn’t make the connection until I was growing kelp myself. One of the things it was used for was fertilizer.”

“The last thing I really wanted to do was grow kelp,” admits Smith, but kelp’s nature as a fast-growing crop that requires low maintenance was hard to resist. “You do almost nothing to it, just a drive-by every two weeks to be sure the gear isn’t broken,” he says.

The need to generate various sources of income led Smith to adopt the IMTA model. “Every commercial fisherman (he used to be one) knows one needs a diverse source of income. I was also looking for other things to grow to use all of the water column.”  

IMTA as a farming concept has been introduced in the Western world in 2004, although the process of rearing multiple fish species (polyculture) in one location is ancient; the Chinese have been doing it for ages.

Smith shares with others the IMTA “gospel” but he thinks IMTA’s full name — integrated multi-trophic aquaculture — is “horrible and alienating.” “We are trying to attract people to ocean farming so we call it 3D Ocean Farming,” he says. (Dr Thierry Chopin, whose research focuses on IMTA and was instrumental in promoting the concept, says there have been over 1,300 publications on IMTA since it was introduced in the Western world in 2004, so he won’t change its name, he said at Aquaculture Canada 2018.) 

Through GreenWave, a nonprofit Smith founded (see side bar), people across the US and overseas are learning about the benefits of “regenerative ocean farming.” “Shellfish like mussels taught me that we can farm to restore rather than deplete. As farmers, our crops can breathe life back into the oceans while feeding local communities,” Smith wrote on the website of a GreenWave sponsor.

Tweaking IMTA

Smith took his cue from the oysters when he was developing his version of IMTA.  “I like growing things that don’t need to be fed and can’t swim away. With all of the things we grow we are able to do simple rope culture and that keeps the infrastructure costs down.”

Without fish in the IMTA equation, this method of farming makes much more economic sense for small to medium size farmers, Smith says.  “Most IMTA starts with fish, to which other things are added. What I’ve done is I simplified it and lowered the barrier to entry by making things cheaper.”

“From my 20 acre farm I harvest 10 to 30 tons of seaweed and 250,000 shellfish per acre a year. With our model, an ocean farmer can gross $300,000 a year and provide two to three full-time jobs and seven to 10 seasonal jobs,” he adds.
Smith grows clams on the ocean floor at the bottom of his lease. But having his oysters buried by storm surges led him to pull them off the bottom. Oysters are in suspended trays, scallops are in lantern nets and mussels in socks all hanging from a long line.  The kelp is grown on the long lines in the winter.  

While labour is the top input in this model, Smiths says it varies between crops.  “Clams just sit in the mud, we don’t cover them with nets so we lose some, but we also don’t have to do anything,” he says.  “Oysters require a fair amount of work for a good product, and scallops are just a pain.”

Kelp harvest is labor-intensive.  When Aquaculture North America spoke to Smith in May, he was in the midst of harvest and watching out for the sweet spot that would allow for maximum growth. “They can double in length in May. But we have to harvest them before they start to become bio-fouled in the warmer water temperatures, or they will have to go to fertilizer.”

Smith sells his harvest locally under the brand Thimble Island Ocean Farm. “Our scallops don’t grow very big adductor muscles in the lantern nets so we sell them whole to restaurants and people eat them raw like oysters.”

The new kale

Kelp presents a different marketing challenge.  “The problem with kelp is nobody wants to eat it,” says Smith. But significant progress is being made, he says, by marketing kelp as “the new kale,” by moving it to the center of plates, and talking about “merroir” (like “terroir” in wine industry jargon) and “arugula from the sea.”  

There are high-end chefs experimenting with everything from kelp pasta to using it to flavor cocktails.  Smith says they have also had success partnering with other food processors, including one that’s making kelp-and-mushroom jerky.

“I thought it would take 20 years to build a market for those specialty items, but we have back orders for half a million pounds of kelp right now,” Smith says.

The other strategy was to take a page from the soy producers’ playbook.  “The soy industry got together and realized they weren’t going to get many Americans to eat soy, so they put it into everything,” Smith explains, only half joking.  “The great thing about seaweed is that it’s a human and animal food, it goes into cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizer and biofuels.  We can stuff it into everything.

“We’ve had a lot of success with it, our challenge now is permitting and developing hatcheries fast enough to meet the demand.”

Smith is now exploring ways to stabilize output from a given lease using remote sensing.  “As an ocean farmer, your soil turns over a thousand times a day. Some years we get kelp that is three feet long, some years it is 20 feet. I need to know about the current, light penetration, and where the nutrients are in the water column. Then I can go out and raise or lower the farm to where those nutrients are.”     

Side Bar

Cultivating underwater farmers

GreenWave is a farmer-run organization that helps attract, educate and support new shellfish farmers.  “My first goal is to create jobs,” says Bren Smith, the organization’s founder and executive director.  He knows from experience that new farmers need all the help they could get. “I was a terrible at first, I killed most of them,” says Smith, recalling his first foray into shellfish farming.

The nonprofit helps farmers with site selection and the permitting that will get them started. They build hatcheries for seed and provide a distribution hub and market research. “The US simply does not have a functioning government to do this kind of training and industry development, like you would find, say, in South Korea,” says Smith. “We decided we would do it ourselves.”  

Training is free, thanks to generous sponsors like outdoors clothing company Patagonia.  GreenWave has supported new farmers in New England and Alaska and is moving into California. “We’ve had requests from virtually every coastal state and over 20 other countries,” says Smith.  “We have always been open source but we have a grant now to put all of our material into online learning, which we hope to have up by this fall.”   

GreenWave’s program has resulted in 17 farm startups, which are all currently operating. Eight farmers are currently enrolled in the FIT (Farmer-In-Training) program, and 10 more are expected.
When two million pounds of farmed fish perished in British Columbia because of a toxic algal bloom in 2015, crew from West Coast Reduction Ltd (WCR) received moved the volume to its the company’s Nanaimo facility. But the work that WCR professionals perform is clearly no ordinary cleanup. It is a delicate job involving microbes and pathogens from dead animals that could seep into the environment if not handled well.

“We have all the logistics and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)-certified facility in place that we can take those volumes, render them, sterilize them and make a value-added product, with no fear of getting those pathogens out in the open. It is similar to the services we provide to the livestock processing industries,” Ridley Bestwick, WCR’s chief financial officer, tells Aquaculture North America (ANA).

The vital work that rendering facilities such as WCR perform often goes unnoticed, but their services are critical to helping sustain the agriculture/aquaculture industry, the food services sector, and the environment.

WCR is Western Canada’s largest independent rendering facility. It recycles about 450,000 tonnes of food byproducts, including beef, pork, poultry and fish, in Western Canada annually. Of this volume, aquaculture byproducts — heads, fins, tails and guts — account for between 5,000 to 10,000 tonnes a year.

Marine Harvest Canada (MHC) accounts foras a large part of WCR’s Aquaculture aquaculture volume along with Brown’s Bay Packing Company, which who is its longest standing aquaculture supplier. WCR also services Cermac and others on the BC coast.. MHC produces three to four trailers of fish waste from its Port Hardy processing plant each week and that waste is trucked down to WCR’s Vancouver plant daily or every second day, depending on the volume.


The greener option

Bestwick tells ANA that rendering is a lower-cost solution for fish farmers and processors dealing with aquaculture byproducts than industrial composting, and also a more environment-friendly option.

“Our plant here in the Port of Vancouver takes the equivalent of 150,000 cars off the road each year in green-house gas reduction. In BC, there is no enclosed composting facility where the gases from composting are captured, so those materials, if they went to compost, would create gases. Composting facilities have a negative carbon footprint, we have a positive carbon footprint,” he says.

Rendering is also “the best way to clean the product,” adds Doug Davidson, WCR’s operations manager. “Animal byproducts are cooked at high temperature during rendering so microbes and pathogens, or any viral-type issues, are sterilized in the process,” he says.

Aquaculture’s share

Bestwick and Davidson see aquaculture’s share in WCR’s business growing alongside aquaculture. Today, the company provides collection services to 50-60 percent of aquaculture businesses in British Columbia.

The supply of fresh raw product and how quickly it is rendered is crucial in producing quality fish oils and protein meals. “For some of the businesses that are far away and have small volumes of byproducts, composting is the closest and easiest fix because WCR can’t collect those volumes fresh enough to get to rendering,” says Davidson.

He explains that fish byproducts produce fishmeal with a protein content of between 64 to 70 percent, and the fresher byproducts are when rendered, the more of that protein is retained. “So if something is left for two days (because of travel time) before it is rendered, it will lose 1 or 2 percent of those proteins.”

But Davidson sees the share of those small farms in WCR’s business growing as the aquaculture industry grows. “As their business and volumes grow, our service to them becomes more economical,” he says.

Bestwick adds: “We are supporting the biggest players of aquaculture and we hope to support the small players as well. In the near future we hope to provide options to supply the service to the more remote locations.”

Byproducts

WCR not only serves the industry in terms of helping dispose its byproducts but also in recycling that waste into valuable feed ingredients.

The aquaculture industry is the company’s biggest customer for proteins produced from rendering poultry byproducts. “We sell our finished products to the likes of Skretting and EWOS, who blend those proteins into feeds,” says Bestwick.

The biggest customer for the fish meals produced out of rendered fish waste is the pet food industry.


An evolving industry

Since the company’s start in 1964, Bestwick says the rendering industry has become more regulated, customers’ demands have become more specialized, and competition for animal byproducts has increased because of the growing movement toward composting and other green energy initiatives.

“In the last 50 years, scrutiny over the process and products in our industry has increased; biosecurity and food safety have become top priorities,” says Bestwick, who noted that CFIA audits and issues industry permits.

Davidson says the basics of rendering have also become much more refined over the years; centrifuge technology and polishing are now the norm, along with raw materials segregation to produce higher quality ingredients. “When I started in 1978, everything was boiled in one pot,” he recalls. Clearly, specialization helps answer the customers’ increasing demand for single-ingredient feed ingredients.

Over the last 10 years, Bestwick says the company has seen its supply of raw materials decline because they are being diverted into other recycling initiatives — for example, composting and biogas — that he believes is not as sustainable as rendering. The organic landfill ban in Greater Vancouver has also contributed to the decline in the supply of byproducts for rendering, he says.

“Organics (food scraps) cannot go into landfill anymore in Greater Vancouver.   We don’t render green vegetable material — it’s better for that to go to composting or biogas or landfill — but the organic landfill ban created an opportunity for waste haulers to also take fish and meat material from our suppliers. I would say we’ve seen a 5- to 10-percent drop in volumes of byproducts that we pick up from butchers and supermarkets,” he adds.

Bestwick acknowledges that while disposing waste via composting is well intentioned, he says rendering is the most sustainable solution for recycling meat and fish byproducts. “Compared to composting, rendering reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent and adds five times more value to the local economy,” says Bestwickhe says.


He regrets that this fact is lost on most consumers because “the fact is, in past years we did not market what we were doing,” he says. But now, the company is increasing its visibility in the media and the community to promote a better understanding of the company’s work.

“We are communicating our role, we meet with government officials, we go to conferences and trade shows, we advertise, sponsor events, communicate with the media, talk to consumers and regulators. We get the message out about the contribution we make to the sustainability of aquaculture and agriculture,” says Bestwick.

In 2016, the BC Food Producers Association awarded WCR with its the Sustainability Award, a proof that finally, the company is succeeding in getting the word out, and its contribution to the environment, economy and people of BC is recognized.

This feature story was originally published in Aquaculture North America's September/October 2017 print edition.
Ingenious companies around the world are accelerating innovations at an unprecedented pace to make fish farming more sustainable. One of them is AgriMarine TechnoIogies Inc (ATI), a developer of marine aquaculture containment systems. ATI is a subsidiary of AgriMarine Holdings Inc, a portfolio company of Toronto-based Dundee Corporation.

The British Columbia company is busier than usual these days, says AgriMarine Director Sean Wilton. “We have lately been working on a lot of closed containment systems because it’s starting to look like there’s a sweet spot in the industry where you get a crossover of functional benefits with cost. The cost of (floating) containment is obviously higher than net pens but lower than in land-based,” he told participants at the Aquaculture Innovation Workshop in November.

AgriMarine has been at the forefront of salmonid closed containment aquaculture for nearly two decades and pioneered the development of marine-grade floating closed containment systems for over 10 years.         In 2014, it formed ATI to focus on delivering its market-ready sustainable technology solutions to clients around the world.

ATI has less than 10 employees, which is relatively small in the world of technology innovators. But while the competition has started getting bigger — in both the size of their deployed systems and their engineering and R&D budgets — Wilton believes “bigger is not always better.”

The greatest challenge for any smaller innovator, he says, is to stay relevant once they have proven the value of their technology to larger players in the industry.

“We are meeting this challenge by leveraging both the depth of our practical experience and our flexibility and responsiveness that we enjoy being a smaller private company,” Wilton says.

The company’s marine containment systems offer solutions for sea lice, toxic algae blooms, low dissolved oxygen water and high temperatures.

“Our floating closed containment technologies, both tanks and raceways, address all of these issues in the same fundamental manner. We use solid or impermeable wall structures in the rearing containment vessels to isolate the husbandry environment from the ambient surface-water conditions, and draw cleaner, cooler water largely free of algae and sea lice from depth to supply the fish with as close to ideal culture conditions as are available,” he told Aquaculture North America (ANA).

Real-world results

In 2012, AgriMarine acquired West Coast Fishculture (Lois Lake) Ltd, a finfish farm in Powell River, BC, which produces 1,200 MT of steelhead annually. Starting out as a net-pen operation, it added closed containment because high water temperatures in the summer led to high mortality rates. There are currently six tanks deployed, displacing approximately 18,000 cubic meters of water and accounts for three quarters of the farm's standing biomass. Plans are underway to transition fully to closed containment.

AgriMarine’s floating, semi-closed containment systems optimize the rearing environment for the steelhead, says Wilton. “Having our own farm and our own engineering group in-house allows us to learn and live what it takes to use floating closed containment in a real-world commercial environment. We have direct feedback from end users to designers and back again, and this is giving us a very rapidly developing practical knowledge base of the technology and its use,” he says.

He adds that sea lice are not an issue in the steelhead farm. “There are no sea lice in the lake. Our challenge is that it gets too warm in the summer. Key for us is the ability to isolate culture temperature from the ambient water around us so we bring cooler water up from depth of about 30 meters below our tanks.”

This allows water in the tank to be maintained at 13 to 14˚C whereas the surface water temperature is as high as 26.5 ˚C outside the tanks. As the farm transitions to all contained systems, the tanks are operated alongside nets, allowing them to collect comparative data. Traditionally, net pens in freshwater lakes see marked spikes in mortality levels during the summer. In contrast, AgriMarine's tanks and raceways have seen greatly reduced mortality rates that are in line with industry norms at saltwater marine sites.

Two tanks were delivered to a Norwegian specialist post-smolt producer over 2016/2017. The client has completed two crop cycles and reports excellent health and accelerated growth with both cohorts reaching target weight seven weeks ahead of schedule.

The company's tanks are certified to the Norwegian NS9415:2009 construction standard — a very rigorous set of technical standards and quality control procedures enforced for all marine equipment in Norway.

“We believe we were first to achieve NS9415 certification for our floating tank technology two years ago and in some ways are still leading as we have more commercial production cycles through our technology than anyone we know of,” Wilton added.

"Combined with government incentives for Green Sites and other R&D support measures in other countries, some competitors have taken the lead in deployment footprint and we have to keep innovating to make sure those large well-funded engineering teams don’t catch up or pass us technologically as well,” he says.
Atlantic Sapphire is well into the construction of the Miami version of their Bluehouse – an all-in-one aquaculture production facility that houses every stage, from hatching broodstock to processing of the harvest. As CEO Johan Andreassen watches his vision for an American Bluehouse take shape with each passing day, he keeps his eyes on a larger prize – a giant US market that imports the vast majority of its consumed salmon. “I think the consumption of salmon here can double over the next 10 years, if done properly,” says Andreassen.

The company is preparing for an increased demand for salmon. It plans to exponentially expand the Miami Bluehouse in size and scope as it moves through different phases. Phase one is due for completion by the yearend and will see its first harvest – 9,484 metric tons head-on and gutted (MT HOG) salmon – by the second quarter of 2020. Phase two will add 20,000 MT HOG by 2023. Phase three will add another 60,000 MT, for a total production of nearly 90,000 MT HOG, by 2026. The initial 384,000-square-foot facility in phase one will grow to four million square feet by phase three. The 100 direct jobs and economic impact equivalent of 2,700 jobs of phase one is predicted to grow to 21,000 indirect jobs by phase three.

While the idea of including every step of the seafood value chain under one roof is unique, it’s not a new idea, says Andreassen. “If you look at everything from broodstock through hatch, through parr, pre-smolt, smolt, post-smolt, what we are doing here is exactly the same as the entire salmon industry. Then we grow out the fish to five kilos, that’s basically what we are innovating and what we are doing differently from anybody else. Once the fish is five kilos, it goes into a slaughterhouse and a processing facility that’s also exactly the same technology and concept that is widely used throughout the industry.”

Risk factors

By housing the supply chain in one facility, the product can reach the market quicker and fresher. But this also means much more planning on the front end for Atlantic Sapphire to avoid potential issues. While recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are much more secure and have a smaller risk of virus issues than other facilities, Andreassen states emphatically “nothing is virus-proof.” The original Bluehouse in Denmark served as a dry run where most of the kinks in this type of facility were ironed out. In 2012, there was a furunculosis bacteria outbreak. And once such a virus gets into a recirculating system, it’s a significant problem to get rid of it because the water keeps recirculating. That’s why it’s so important to have protocols and protections in place to begin with.

“You have to have a very, very thorough pre-treatment of the water, and high hygienic standards, and procedures on all the stuff that you’re bringing into the farm.  Most of the people that are producing fish on land, they’re using water from a pipe into the ocean or they’re piping water from rivers or streams and those are not biosecure. You have fish, you have algae and you have living organisms in the intake water. In the case of South Florida, we’re using a deep-laying artesian aquifer that’s 2,000 feet below, where the water is completely biosecure. So that’s a huge edge that we have here.”

To deal with the furunculous is issue in Denmark and avoid such issues in Miami, Atlantic Sapphire designed a new water treatment system with a double firewall for pathogens, and improved their bio security routines. Another risk factor, for any farming situation, is hydrogen sulfide intoxication, which the Danish Bluehouse experienced last year. In response to that, the company updated the design of their bio filters, developed a new sensor to measure H₂S and made changes across the system to prevent sedimentation.

Due to such intense precautionary measures that are required, some larger salmon farmers do not feel that RAS technology is ready yet to operate in larger scale production. Andreassen feels that such concerns are unwarranted.
“Broodstock salmon have been raised land-based for 20 years, right? It’s not a question if it’s feasible to get the salmon to grow to a large size in a land-based environment. Obviously, when you do commercial food fish production, you have higher densities and you need to dimension the technology accordingly, so it can keep a higher volume of game per cubic meter of tank volume.”

No matter what the challenges, Andreassen feels it will be worth the benefits that their approach will bring to aquaculture production. Citing how net-pen farming was recently banned in Washington State, for example, he notes that the Bluehouse concept addresses all of the issues associated with net-pen salmon farming, including microplastics. “I think microplastic is going to be one of the largest [problems]. I call it the next CO₂.”

More than that, however, is the fact that consumers are becoming more concerned about the origins of their food and seeing how it comes to their plate. Having the entire supply chain under one roof means that question is much more easily answered.

“I also think that once we have ‘Product of the United States’ [label] on our products, it will appeal more to a lot of consumer groups here,” says Andreassen. “We have a very open philosophy. We want to create trust amongst the consumers so we have designed our farm in a way we can have tours. People can see exactly how the fish are being raised so we can create that confidence that what we’re doing is good both for the fish, for the environment and for the consumer.”
Whole Oceans 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.”
Passionate farmers and technical experts are undaunted by challenges in their quest to buoy Alabama’s fledgling shrimp industry.
A visually appealing fish and short time to market are just some of the pluses of raising fish on land, says America’s sole producer of RAS-raised European seabass
Ryan Chatterson, a commercial aquaponics farmer and consultant in aquaponics design, engineering and educational services discusses how adding greens to your salmon makes a lot of sense.
Deep-water fishing project faces many regulatory challenges
The pristine waters of British Columbia provide Stellar Bay Shellfish the ideal growing conditions for its oysters for known their small size but plump meat.
Maine company focuses on oyster seed, the half-shell market and R&D
The prehistoric fish takes an epic time to mature. After harvesting, there are still a few more steps to ensure the quality reflects its premium price.
An interview with the director of the University of Idaho’s Aquaculture Research Institute

Since its establishment in 1988, the Aquaculture Research Institute (ARI) at the University of Idaho has been home to significant work looking at food production, fisheries enhancement and stock restoration. A driving force behind ARI’s work is its director, Ron Hardy. Though he is proud of the work that has been done over the years at the institute, Hardy says that’s not the most important part of their work.

“I had a wise mentor explain to me that we are in the information business,” says Hardy. “He asked what I thought we did as scientists, I said we invent this or we discover that. He said, ‘no, our role isn’t necessarily to solve the problems that industry has today, ours is to work on today’s problems but also looking down the road to the future as best we can and see what the needs might be or what questions might arise. We see ourselves as mini-futurists, in a way.

When ARI began doing selective breeding, no one else was pursuing such work and no one requested it of them, he says. But they decided that they needed to do it because there would come a time when it would be important.

“That time is now,” says Hardy. “Actually, it’s past now, but you get the point. We need to get our information into the hands of people in the industry or other scientists or government people who are working on policy or regulations. These policies and regulations will be part of the fabric of how the industry operates and dictate its success or failure.

ARI’s work is focused on discoveries that advance sustainability. Hardy’s experience is as a fish nutritionist. His entire career, hes been focused on alternative proteins and fats. Hes also been focused studying protein retention, which is the percentage of protein ingested that’s retained as protein gain in the body over a set period of time. Hardy says he was appalled 20 years ago when he found that the rate was in the 20-25 percent range. Across the industry, that protein retention rate has reached the low 40s, but he still wants to know what happens to that other 60 percent.

“We’ve focused on that a lot, in collaboration with the USDA,” says Hardy. “We’ve looked at how to better manufacture feed, how to grind it better, how to make better pellets. We’ve also looked at lowering the environmental impact of aquaculture through increasing phosphorus retention.”

Another ARI effort Hardy speaks fondly about is a trout breeding program that utilizes all-plant protein diet. The feeding regime, coupled an aggressive selection program, has improved the performance of trout over eight generations and they now grow twice as fast as when the program started 16 years ago.

“We’re looking at why. What’s different in these fish – digestion, intestinal transporters, whatever – compared to non-selected fish and are there genetic markers that we can identify that we can go into another population, or another species even, and say ‘these individual fish have these characteristics that are linked to increased performance. They should be used for future generations.’”

Hardy says USDAs funding support has enabled ARI to conduct such programs. Much of ARI’s funding comes in two- to four-year grants, but more sustained funding is required to conduct genetic improvement effectively. ARI also conducts many shorter-term projects through funding from industry partners around the world. When Canada’s Enterra was looking into developing insect meal (as reported in ANA Sept 2017), ARI conducted the testing and evaluation of the feed. Enterra has since received approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to sell its whole dried black soldier fly larvae as a feed ingredient for salmonids.

ARI is currently building a new fish lab on their campus, which will have the capacity to work on marine fish. This will allow them to apply the findings of their trout research into species such as salmon, amberjack and yellowtail. The new lab is expected to start operations by the end of year.

Hardy is something of an elder statesman in the aquaculture research community. With new frontiers of research opening up, the industry veteran says today is an exciting time for aquaculture. “I wish I were starting my career now instead of ending it.

“It’s a very exciting time with new genomic technologies that let us look deeper into how fish operate, how the world works, how life works, in a way,” says Hardy. “We’re well positioned here at our laboratory, and I think the research community as a whole is well-positioned to make a substantial contribution to aquaculture in the future.



Real Oyster Cult pioneers B2C overnight delivery of fresh oysters from 70 US farms

Contrary to what the name may lead you to believe, there are no secret rituals or sacrifices involved in joining Real Oyster Cult.

“Our hashtag and tagline - #jointhecult – is all about joining, having fun, and is wink, wink, get in on the party,” says Sims McCormick, the creative force behind Real Oyster Cult’s unique marketing. “We’re a cult of oyster lovers, life lovers. Let’s celebrate.”

McCormick’s husband Rob Knecht spent most of his working life on the water, running a maritime school, and working as a sailing coach. When the couple launched the oyster farm in 2006, Knecht also worked with a technology company. At that company, it was interactions with technologists, developers and designers that sparked the idea to build a company that used technology to get oysters directly to consumers, shipped overnight.

“We leverage our mobile app and our website to get in front of consumers online that want to source oysters from all over North America, and we make that happen for them,” says Knecht. “Our front-end technology really gives you access to the farmers, their story, and deeper dives if you’re really into flavour profiles, and details of the oyster and where they’re grown.”

Real Oyster Cult sells product from over 70 farms (including their own), rotating which farms are featured on a weekly basis. Some products will stay longer based on demand, but they make efforts to highlight a new farmer at least once a week through their newsletter and their platform.

Solving the technological and logistic challenges with this model is what Knecht calls their ”secret sauce.”

“We’ve solved some of those issues with technology,” says Knecht. “We not only have our front end technology, but our backend tech helps smooth that process out. Some of them are custom and proprietary, and others are technologies that you can get; whether it’s Slack technology [a cloud-based suite of collaboration tools] or another third party that we implement into our system.”

While Real Oyster Cult has sold oysters to chefs on a limited level, the majority of the clientele is B2C — end consumers who love oyster lovers and adventurous foodies. Knecht says they are riding the wave of Plated, Blue Apron and other ready-to-cook meal kits, which opened a window into people’s buying habits. They have shipped to all 48 continental states and their most popular markets currently include Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Florida, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

However, freshness is important, particularly as it comes to shellfish. As always, Real Oyster Cult answers the challenge with technology.

“We use a little gel temp sensor in our package, which provides a level of security on temperature so that the consumer knows that they’ve stayed under about 50 degrees for the whole trip to their door,” says Knecht.

Cultivating a community

While the business certainly sees booms around holidays, where customers may want oysters for celebrations and events, they also have a monthly cult membership which sends 20, 40 or 60 oysters every month. The cult membership features oysters hand curated by Knecht and McCormick.

“We’re picking some very special oysters based on what’s highly in season and what’s tasting phenomenally,” says Knecht. “They’re going to be at their peak flavours and they’re going to be the best of the best. And we also try to pick what’s not readily available everywhere, oysters you may not find at any restaurant — ones that are only locally sourced, for instance. We like to give our cult members something special.”

The cult theme may be whimsical, but it also refers to a real community and culture which McCormick and Knecht attempt to cultivate. They interact directly with their customers through a variety of platforms. McCormick notes that their Facebook page is currently blowing up with excitement over Glacier Point oysters from Halibut Cove, Alaska.

“They obviously have a really nice community of supporters around them that were able to share the story and comment on it,” says McCormick. “The oysters are truly glacier-fed. Theirs is a great story – husband and wife team, raising oysters, mussels and kids in remote Alaska. We got a chance to tell their story across our platform and on social media last week and the response was tremendous. That’s really what we’re all about, trying to spread the love – give our customers direct access to the farmers and regions that grow oysters and giving the farmers a platform to shine.”

Award-winning

In November, Real Oyster Cult were one of the eight finalists awarded a cash prize at Fish 2.0’s 2017 Innovation Forum. Fish 2.0’s release says the winners were selected for ”simplifying supply chains while increasing income for fishers and farmers, bringing to market creative approaches to aquaculture production and traceability, and getting consumers excited about seafood.”

“We had a great experience there, met a lot of great people,” says Knecht. “Getting to meet folks and hearing about their challenges and different things they were working through at start-up. It was very refreshing. We still keep in touch with the folks that we’ve met through that. Trying to help each other out and network, even on a global scale, is what’s neat about the program, for sure.”

Looking forward, they hope that the networking opportunities that Fish 2.0 offers will help them as they develop their next steps forward – expanding into international markets, and, domestically, moving into a direct chef/pop-up model. But in the meantime, they are happy to grow their cult.

“We’ve had such a great response from people who said, ‘I never would have gotten any kind of live seafood shipped to my door. And I’ve never shucked an oyster before, but I did this, and I watched your video on how to shuck, and taught my daughter and had an amazing experience,’” says McCormick. “That is just so much fun for us. We converted them.”





Real Oyster Cult pioneers B2C overnight delivery of fresh oysters from 70 US farms

Contrary to what the name may lead you to believe, there are no secret rituals or sacrifices involved in joining Real Oyster Cult.

“Our hashtag and tagline - #jointhecult – is all about joining, having fun, and is wink, wink, get in on the party,” says Sims McCormick, the creative force behind Real Oyster Cult’s unique marketing. “We’re a cult of oyster lovers, life lovers. Let’s celebrate.”

McCormick’s husband Rob Knecht spent most of his working life on the water, running a maritime school, and working as a sailing coach. When the couple launched the oyster farm in 2006, Knecht also worked with a technology company. At that company, it was interactions with technologists, developers and designers that sparked the idea to build a company that used technology to get oysters directly to consumers, shipped overnight.

“We leverage our mobile app and our website to get in front of consumers online that want to source oysters from all over North America, and we make that happen for them,” says Knecht. “Our front-end technology really gives you access to the farmers, their story, and deeper dives if you’re really into flavour profiles, and details of the oyster and where they’re grown.”

Real Oyster Cult sells product from over 70 farms (including their own), rotating which farms are featured on a weekly basis. Some products will stay longer based on demand, but they make efforts to highlight a new farmer at least once a week through their newsletter and their platform.

Solving the technological and logistic challenges with this model is what Knecht calls their ”secret sauce.”

“We’ve solved some of those issues with technology,” says Knecht. “We not only have our front end technology, but our backend tech helps smooth that process out. Some of them are custom and proprietary, and others are technologies that you can get; whether it’s Slack technology [a cloud-based suite of collaboration tools] or another third party that we implement into our system.”

While Real Oyster Cult has sold oysters to chefs on a limited level, the majority of the clientele is B2C — end consumers who love oyster lovers and adventurous foodies. Knecht says they are riding the wave of Plated, Blue Apron and other ready-to-cook meal kits, which opened a window into people’s buying habits. They have shipped to all 48 continental states and their most popular markets currently include Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Florida, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

However, freshness is important, particularly as it comes to shellfish. As always, Real Oyster Cult answers the challenge with technology.

“We use a little gel temp sensor in our package, which provides a level of security on temperature so that the consumer knows that they’ve stayed under about 50 degrees for the whole trip to their door,” says Knecht.

Cultivating a community

While the business certainly sees booms around holidays, where customers may want oysters for celebrations and events, they also have a monthly cult membership which sends 20, 40 or 60 oysters every month. The cult membership features oysters hand curated by Knecht and McCormick.

“We’re picking some very special oysters based on what’s highly in season and what’s tasting phenomenally,” says Knecht. “They’re going to be at their peak flavours and they’re going to be the best of the best. And we also try to pick what’s not readily available everywhere, oysters you may not find at any restaurant — ones that are only locally sourced, for instance. We like to give our cult members something special.”

The cult theme may be whimsical, but it also refers to a real community and culture which McCormick and Knecht attempt to cultivate. They interact directly with their customers through a variety of platforms. McCormick notes that their Facebook page is currently blowing up with excitement over Glacier Point oysters from Halibut Cove, Alaska.

“They obviously have a really nice community of supporters around them that were able to share the story and comment on it,” says McCormick. “The oysters are truly glacier-fed. Theirs is a great story – husband and wife team, raising oysters, mussels and kids in remote Alaska. We got a chance to tell their story across our platform and on social media last week and the response was tremendous. That’s really what we’re all about, trying to spread the love – give our customers direct access to the farmers and regions that grow oysters and giving the farmers a platform to shine.”

Award-winning

In November, Real Oyster Cult were one of the eight finalists awarded a cash prize at Fish 2.0’s 2017 Innovation Forum. Fish 2.0’s release says the winners were selected for ”simplifying supply chains while increasing income for fishers and farmers, bringing to market creative approaches to aquaculture production and traceability, and getting consumers excited about seafood.”

“We had a great experience there, met a lot of great people,” says Knecht. “Getting to meet folks and hearing about their challenges and different things they were working through at start-up. It was very refreshing. We still keep in touch with the folks that we’ve met through that. Trying to help each other out and network, even on a global scale, is what’s neat about the program, for sure.”

Looking forward, they hope that the networking opportunities that Fish 2.0 offers will help them as they develop their next steps forward – expanding into international markets, and, domestically, moving into a direct chef/pop-up model. But in the meantime, they are happy to grow their cult.

“We’ve had such a great response from people who said, ‘I never would have gotten any kind of live seafood shipped to my door. And I’ve never shucked an oyster before, but I did this, and I watched your video on how to shuck, and taught my daughter and had an amazing experience,’” says McCormick. “That is just so much fun for us. We converted them.”





Page 1 of 8

Subscription Centre

Most Popular

Latest Events

GOAL 2018
Tue Sep 25, 2018
25th Annual Cold Harvest Conference and Trade Show
Wed Sep 26, 2018 @ 8:00am - 05:00pm
Pacific Coast Shellfish Conference
Sun Oct 14, 2018 @ 8:00am - 05:00pm
58th IFFO Annual Conference
Mon Oct 15, 2018 @ 8:00am - 05:00pm
Offshore Mariculture Conference
Wed Oct 17, 2018 @ 8:00am - 05:00pm
Laqua 18
Tue Oct 23, 2018 @ 8:00am - 05:00pm

We are using cookies to give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. To find out more, read our Privacy Policy.