AquaMaof VP and Co-owner Yoav Dagan said land-based aquaculture is a "tough business ... It’s a long-term business but very rewarding business."
The company started with earth ponds and cage farming, but has been working with RAS aquaculture for the last 18 years.
"It's not enough to have the technology," Dagan told the audience at the IntraFish Seafood Investor Forum in New York City last week. "You have to coordinate between the biology of the fish and the chemistry of the water ... You also have to have the right market."
The company specializes in 16-20 species and offers diverse RAS systems.
AquaMaof has an US-based indoor aqua culture facility, which produces 3 metric tons of sturgeon caviar per year.
It also has a salmon and tilapia project in Poland, which produces 1,000 metric tons per year, using 10 cubic meters of new water per day.
Dagan said the group is currently working on another project in Russia, which focuses on salmon and trout.
It will produce 500 metric tons per year using 10 cubic meters of new water per day. The foundation went in last year and the planned cost of production is $2.37 (€2.12) per kg.
Its Agrofim Project in Slovakia produces 1,000 metric tons of catfish per year using 20 cubic meters of new water per day. It's a production facility and greenhouse.
This project is located in an urban city, which Dagan hopes to show land-based aquaculture should be geographically close to its intended market.
"You don’t have to be near ocean or river, just need enough water and electricity."
AquaMaof also has four RAS farms in Israel, which feature zero discharge
Its sea bream project in the desert can produce up to 2,000 metric tons per year using 40 cubic meters of new water per day.
He said the issue with this project is being able to find enough healthy fingerlings. Salmon, on the other hand, can be raised from eggs. "It’s really important to control the chain of growth."
Lastly, AquaMaof is also building a project to raise Greek fish in Canada.
Economies of scale
"I think this is the opportunity for serious investors. It’s not a farmer’s game anymore. You need an investor to go and look for the future," said Dagan.
AquaMaof's scalable design can accommodate different species with annual production ranging from 300 to 20,000 metric tons.
"If you're going to invest, 1,000 or 2,000 tons [of salmon] is under economies of scale. You're going to lose money," said Dagan. "You should [start] a little higher than 5,000 [metric] tons."
For an example 5,000 metric ton salmon RAS system, the production cost $2.58 (€2.31) per kg, but Dagan believes "the prices in the market will not stay as they are today. There will be more production and competition and prices will go down."
The feed-conversion ratio is 1.16 and fish mortality from eggs is 40 percent.
Salmon in this design are raised to a little over 5 kg with ex-farm price round weight at $4.68 (€4.19) per kg. Total electric energy cost for its RAS system is 1.18 kwh.
AquaMaof is working on 20,000-metric ton salmon RAS projects now.
"People are now realizing the potential of doing it in the market," Dagan said. "We started another project in Virginia two years ago for salmon and we're going to start building it at the beginning of next year. We already have the land, the permissions, the money, we are there."
He also gave examples of economies of scale for shrimp RAS systems.
With a 5,000-metric ton shrimp RAS example, Dagan said the production cost is $2.71 (€2.43) per kg, the feed-conversion ratio is 1.30 and fish mortality is 20 percent.
Shrimp in this design are raised to a little more than 0.031 kg with ex-farm price round weight at $6 (€5.37) per kg.
"People think shrimp is a commodity where you can only [raise] it in the far east or in Ecuador where the environment is there."
However, Dagan said this can change. The company has an R&D RAS center in the desert in Revivim, Israel where it is researching shrimp RAS systems.
"We are growing shrimp, 25 kilo per cubic meter today. Our goal is to go to 50 kilo per cubic meter."
Dagan said the approach to RAS land-based fish farming is different from traditional methods.
"We’re not smarter than anybody else. When we started, we purchased five different technologies from five different countries [Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, Canada, US]. We put them into our system and what we saw was that it all came from wastewater treatment philosophy," he said. "We come from fish production so our philosophy is very different."
He stated the following as the main challenges for large-scale fish production: early maturation, off-flavor, water quality, growth and mortality.
The company has researched bluefin tuna for the last seven years with Virginia Tech and other researchers in Israel.
"We've made great progress," said Dagan. "In the last two years, we've been able to take bluefin tuna from eggs to cages so I think we're on the right track."