Brian Vinci is director of The Conservation Fund's Freshwater Institute, one of the world's leading research institutions on recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) and land-based salmon farming in particular.

It's fair to be cautiously optimistic about the land-based fish farming industry ("$2 billion doesn't buy you much fish in the land-based aquaculture world," December 2020).

The past year showed us that “projects” are becoming companies, and in some cases, publicly traded companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars. There was never certainty that this would happen.

It is my experience that the land-based fish farming sector attracts idealistic folks who dream big. I love their outlook! However, I am inherently a realist and often find myself on the end of the phone providing a 15-minute primer on the pitfalls and risks of land-based fish farming.

I mostly feel like a wet blanket in these cases, but I desperately want people to know what they are getting into.

The reality so far has been that successes in land-based fish farming are few and far between. There are some successful companies operating, but there have been a lot of failed projects along the way.

Looking back on the past 30 years we can see where failed projects went wrong – technology that could not maintain water quality at maximum feed loading required for the bioplan, inconsistent seedstock supply resulting in missed cohorts and/or poor growth, insufficient operating capital before first harvest and cash flow began, unrealistic fish growth assumptions, inadequate water supply, and many more reasons.

Land-based projects may be quicker to fail from the risks that are common with other types of aquaculture, but we have not looked at that yet.

Our goal at The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute is to effectively de-risk land-based fish farming by identifying limitations and issues, developing and testing solutions, and then publishing the results for everyone to learn from. We sincerely believe that we have had a positive impact that is now helping to build success in the sector.

We worked with many of the land-based fish farming companies that are growing successes when they were just “projects.” We shared our research results and operational knowledge to help them on their journey, including North Country Clear Waters (also known as Superior Fresh) and ALSCO (also known as Atlantic Sapphire), among others. Their successes in 2020 are building momentum for the entire sector.

So my realistic nature is going to start benefitting me. Projects becoming companies? Now we are talking. When people interested in land-based fish farming call me in 2021 I will still give them a primer on pitfalls and risks, but also tell them how recent successes are effectively mitigating those risks.

It is good thing to be a realist now: It means you are cautiously optimistic.

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