"If we can do sustainable aquaculture in China then there's no excuse for anyone else," said a confident Anthony Ostrowski, chief scientific officer at Sino Agro Food (SIAF).
Sitting down with IntraFish on the sidelines of the North Atlantic Seafood Forum (NASF) in Bergen, Norway, he presented the group's ambitious plans for its Zhongshan MegaFarm, which according to him could result in a "paradigm" shift in the way shrimp are farmed.
The United States-headquartered group recently started stocking the farm with the first shrimp in a test phase, and listed on the alternative Merkur Market in Oslo with the goal to seek a listing on the Oslo Stock Exchange.
The gigantic indoor recirculation aquaculture system (RAS) operation will be built up to a maximum production capacity of about 300,000 metric tons of shrimp (macrobrachium rosenbergii) by 2025.
But actual production will more likely be around 200,000 metric tons per year, Ostrowski said.
In addition to shrimp, Sino Agro plans to target a range of other aquatic species, and to grow fruit and vegetables with an aquaponics system. The facility will also include an aquatic feed and value-added plant production.
Next year, production will be ramped up to about 10,000 metric tons.
Local Chinese investors own the majority of the plant, while Sino Agro Food is supplying the technology. The company also has an option to increase its stake from the current 25 percent to 75 percent.
Sustainability is 'key'
The main aim for this vertically integrated "farm-to-plate" model is to produce sustainable shrimp for the growing Chinese middle class, Ostrowski (pictured left) said.
Sino Agro banks on no massive disease outbreaks, no antibiotics and a "biologically, environmentally and socially responsible production" with increased efficiency and greater yield, he told IntraFish.
It will focus on the high-end live seafood market in China, which is needed to make up for the higher production cost.
"Due to the capital investment that's required it usually makes very little sense to do grow-out in RAS facilities," he said.
So why does it work for Sino Agro? Higher stocking densities, higher yields and higher prices, Ostrowski replied.
International interest growing
In November last year, the company announced it is planning to spin off its aquaculture operations and list them in Oslo.
Erik Ahl, finance and investor relations manager at the company, told IntraFish this spin-off is going to occur in 2016.
The company is currently talking to its advisors and is "very interested in having a purely aquaculture arm and to have it listed in Oslo."
And investor interest is growing, he said, adding a number of people are looking into it to "diversify the risk from the highly volatile salmon" segment.
One well-known industry veteran looking to invest is Bjorn Myrseth (pictured left), owner of Vitamar, and one of the founders of Stolt Sea Farms and Marine Farms, which was acquired by now Marine Harvest-owned Morpol in 2010 and is now part of Cooke Aquaculture.
"I've always been interested in RAS, and was invited to visit Sino Agro Food in September. I was there in January, and think what they do is very interesting," he told IntraFish.
"There are great opportunities for both investors and the company. This is the right company with the right technology and the right products in the right market."
So far, he has not bought any shares but has already been asked to join the company's board, which he agreed to do after the restructuring and spin-off, Myrseth said.
"I want to see and wait how the listing goes," he told IntraFish.