Aquaculture

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US land-based sea bass farming project ready for launch

Pentair-backed project hopes to boost investor confidence in the land-based aquaculture sector.

Next month, about 70,000 branzino, or European sea bass, fingerlings will trek nearly 300 miles from Baltimore, Maryland to Waterbury Connecticut. They're part of Great American Aquaculture's new recirculating aquaculture system (RAS).

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Great American Aquaculture and Pentair started construction on a the multi-million dollar project "proof of concept" for its marine RAS capabilities for sea bass earlier this year, said Joe McElwee, Pentair North American sales manager of commercial aquaculture.

"We're targeting RAS farms, but also the investment community," McElwee told IntraFish earlier this year. "We want to get to a level where we can meet with investment groups and show proof of expenditure. In the US, there is no confidence in the investor community in aquaculture."

Great American Aquaculture President Eric Pedersen has been busy preparing the new facility in time for the fingerlings, which are expected to arrive in the third week of May.

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In Baltimore, "they were raised at a facility operated by the University of Maryland – the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology," he said, adding the fingerlings are in varying sizes: 10 grams, 20 grams and 40 grams.

"This is a big moment for us to have fish in our system," Pedersen told IntraFish, adding this is the only commercial scale saltwater RAS in northeastern United States.

"We'll be stocking them into our first operational quarantine system, which will be up and running at the end of April."

The entire RAS facility will be completely finished this summer. However, the "quarantine system will be ready so we can start our bio plan."

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Their bio plan determines how frequently fish are brought into the system, how long the fish stay in each of four phases (quarantine, nursery, grow-out, purge) and how frequently they're harvested.

Great American Aquaculture will bring in branzino fingerlings from a hatchery in the Mediterranean.

"In the Waterbury system, the fish will stay in a single system that performs both the quarantine and nursery functions for four months. These are isolated independent systems in separate rooms, so there's no cross contamination," Pedersen said.

Fish will then move to a larger 92-cubic-meter grow-out tank for 10 to 12 months until they reach 550 grams in weight; they then go through the purge phase for a few days before they're harvested and taken to market.

"We anticipate 5,000 pounds harvested a week when everything's up and running," Pedersen told IntraFish. "They'll be packaged fresh in 10-kilo boxes on ice, about 20 fish per box."

Great American Aquaculture plans to distribute fish directly to grocery stores in the Connecticut and New York area. Their distribution includes Whole Foods, Wegmans, Shoprite, Trader Joes as well as local/organic/sustainability-focused retailers.

"Imagine being able to purchase at local grocery store a fish that was harvested a day or two before you buy it," he said.

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