Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

WA DNR floats a new option for aquaculture: tanks on land

Sustainable Blue, a Nova Scotia-based fish farm that uses upland tanks to raise Atlantic salmon, is looking to lease land from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
Sustainable Blue
Sustainable Blue, a Nova Scotia-based fish farm that uses upland tanks to raise Atlantic salmon, is looking to lease land from the Washington state Department of Natural Resources.

A company from Canada that has developed a method of commercial fish farming in tanks on land has signed a letter of intentwith Washington’s Department of Natural Resources, to explore opportunities for "an alternative aquaculture model" on public lands managed by the state.

“Sustainable Blue has already proven the concept and is actually operating in Nova Scotia. So this isn't something that's just an idea that hasn't actually occurred and isn't working successfully,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who leads DNR. She noted many people have questioned whether this model could work.

Franz said the letter of intent points to great possibilities. It’s not a binding or exclusive agreement. But she said DNR has more than 3 million acres of public land and a good portion of it is zoned for commercial and industrial use. Electricity needed to power the tanks is relatively cheap in Washington, an advantage for any company locating here.

“We have a lot of this land that honestly hasn't been necessarily leveraged for the opportunity that it creates,” she told KNKX.

Franz envisions a Sustainable Blue facility on a parcel somewhere along the I-5 corridor or in the Tri-cities. She says the agency is already compiling a list of 10 to 20 potential locations for the company.

“I’m excited. I’m very excited,” she said.

Is net pen ban the end an era for Cooke?

The agreement with Nova Scotia-based Sustainable Blue comes after Franz in November announced an end to leases for commercial finfish farming in net penslike those still in Puget Sound, nearly six years after the collapseof Cooke Aquaculture’s net pens at Cypress Island. That catastrophe released several hundred thousand non-native salmon into state and tribal waters, with unknown effects.

Hilary Franz wants agency leases to include upland aquaculture moving forward

Even without failing nets and spilled fish, net pen farming is controversial because of the use of antibiotics and pharmaceuticals used to keep diseases from spreading within high concentrations of trapped fish. There is also concern about the concentrated waste that they deposit from feed pellets and feces beneath the pens.

Cooke has until Friday, April 14, to remove its net pens from the two remaining locations in Puget Sound. Despite legal action against the order, DNR said all is on track for the removal. A spokesperson for Cooke did not respond to multiple requests for comment by publication.

Previously, Cooke spoke with KNKX about its plans to collaborate with the Jamestown SKlallam Tribe to remain in Washington waters through a joint venture.

Emerging companies have eyes on Washington

Sustainable Blue CEO Kirk Havercroft told KNKX that his company has been watching the story of Cooke’s 2017 net pen collapse as well as the response to it.

“Watching things from a distance, we felt very closely aligned with the strategy that Commissioner Franz was implementing in the state of Washington. And we just felt that the Sustainable Blue technology would be a great complement to what's being done in the state on a broader basis,” he said.

He said the company’s technology can grow any species of fish in tanks that continuously circulate and filter water with no discharge of waste. Instead they filter out fish waste and using an anaerobic digester, convert it into a biogas to generate energy. A similar process is used with other kinds of manure, including from cattle. Sustainable Blue is also working on making it into a soil-remediation product.

There is a need for water to replace the moisture carried in the fish that go to market, but Havercroft said it’s minimal and municipal fresh water works just fine.

Sustainable Blue's closed-loop land-based facility in Nova Scotia. The company was founded in 2007 and is now selling its Atlantic salmon in Canada.
Sustainable Blue
Sustainable Blue's closed-loop land-based facility in Nova Scotia. The company was founded in 2007 and is now selling its Atlantic salmon in Canada.

“Salmon is a saltwater fish, but we don't have to be by the ocean. So we think, you know, we could produce 5000 metric tons of salmon with using approximately 3000 US gallons per day of water,” he said. That is less than the average family uses per day in the United States. And he added that there is no need for the antibiotics or pharmaceuticals prevalent in net-pen fish farming.   

Sustainable Blue was founded in 2007. Havercroft said it’s been a long road, but the company has completed a commercial scale facility in Nova Scotia and is now selling its Atlantic salmon in Canada, including via contract with a national grocery chain there.

With global demand for fish protein soaring, Sustainable Blue is in expansion mode. Havercroft said they are excited to explore locations in Washington and they will not be asking for any subsidies from the state to locate here.

“We are absolutely convinced that this is profitable, it is scalable and investable,” Havercroft said.

Being closer to a new market is also important for Sustainable Blue. Havercroft said the company aims to produce food that ends up in the local area, rather than flying in fish from other countries. The U.S. imports 70-85% of its seafood, over half of which is produced by aquaculture, according to NOAA Fisheries.

Commissioner Franz said she has also been approached by other companies who do upland aquaculture, including one in Norway which the agency might also explore.

DNR will submit the list of possible locations to Sustainable Blue and the company will evaluate them and provide the agency with a feasibility report. If a potential site is identified and found feasible by both parties, contract negotiations would follow.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to