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US-based RAS farmer Ideal Fish takes on seabass imports

US-based RAS farmer Ideal Fish takes on seabass imports

Ideal Fish, a Waterbury, Connecticut, firm, will be riding a slowly building wave of branzino popularity in the US when it has its first harvest of the fish grown in a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) in less than two months.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s import data shows the US imported 7,585 metric tons of branzino, also known as Mediterranean seabass, worth more than $47 million in 2017. That volume is up 21% from the 6,260t imported in 2016 and 49% from the 5,076t imported in 2014.

Ideal Fish will harvest just 1,000 lbs of branzino a week in May, but hopes to be on pace, in six months, to harvest 6,250 lbs per week and ultimately more than 250,000 lbs per year, James MacKnight, the company’s sales and marketing director, told Undercurrent News at Seafood Expo North America 2018.

MacKnight said he was at the event to check out equipment, meet potential customers and competitors, and introduce himself to NGOs. He believes his company has a positive message to share.

“RAS addresses all of the negative aspects associated with open ocean cage farming, specifically including escapes and environmental issues,” he said. “We don’t use any artificial hormones, antibiotics, or any kind of chemicals. We can simulate and create the perfect growing environment for the fish.”

Greece (43%) and Turkey (33%), the two largest sources of imported branzino in the US, rely on net pens by contrast.

Ideal Fish will have one other advantage, too, in that it is centrally located between two major metropolitan areas: New York City and Boston. That means quicker transport of its fish to area restaurants and retailers.

One disadvantage the company will have, however, is that it will selling its fish at a higher price than the imports, said MacKnight, though a specific price has not yet been determined.

Land-based aquaculture has yet to take off in the US, with few companies able to make a go of it. But momentum seems to be building.

Undercurrent reported recently how Kingfish Zeeland, a successful Dutch RAS company, is planning a new farm to raise yellowtail kingfish somewhere on the East Coast of the US. Nordic Aquafarms and Whole Oceans recently announced plans to build Atlantic salmon farms in Maine.

And Atlantic Sapphire, a Norwegian company, is only about two years away from being ready to present its initial harvest of 800 metric tons of Atlantic salmon from a facility being built near Miami, as Undercurrent reported earlier.

But Ideal Fish will be the first RAS farm of any size to produce branzino in the US using a land-based system. And it will do so by introducing a few novel technologies in its approach to RAS, too, reusing 95% of its water and, by August, developing an aquaponics system that will allow it to use its fish waste to grow fruits and vegetables, according to MacKnight. 

It also plans on tagging gills with QR codes during processing so consumers and retailers can trace the history of their fish.

The company, started in 2013, is the brainchild of Eric Pedersen, a long-time water technology expert who once worked for General Electric. The large water technology company Pentair Systems is an investor, according to MacKnight.


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