For Scott Nichols, the launch of Verlasso™ salmon — a brand and trademark of AquaChile, one of world’s largest salmon-farming companies — is much more than a new business venture. It’s also about changing the way people think about farmed salmon and developing a new category of “harmoniously raised” fish.
This fall, Verlasso will roll out its premium “harmoniously raised” salmon (fresh fillets and whole, gutted fish) selectively amongst a few retailers and restaurants in a few U.S. cities.
Part of what sets Verlasso apart from the competition is that its fish, raised in southern Chile and processed at AquaChile’s facilities, are fed a feed that achieves a fish in-fish out ratio of 1:1. Through a partnership with AquaChile forged in 2007, DuPont has developed a feed made with yeast rich in omega-3 fatty acids to replace the fish oil in a salmon’s diet, reducing by 75 percent the number of wild-caught feeder fish required to raise salmon. Currently, according to AquaChile, the industry standard is a fish in-fish out ratio of roughly 4:1, meaning 4 kilograms of feeder fish are required to produce 1 kilogram of salmon.
In addition to the feed, the salmon are raised in an environmentally responsible manner. Verlasso enforces a maximum pen density of 12 kilograms of salmon per 1 ton of water, compared to 17 kilograms of salmon per 1 ton of water, the maximum set by Chilean authorities. And the nets that house the salmon are not treated with copper-based anti-foulants (at elevated levels copper can be toxic).
The result is “harmoniously raised” salmon that strikes a balance between the marine ecosystem, wild fish, farmed fish and the people who raise and eat the fish, explained Nichols, a Verlasso director based in Wilmington, Del.
SeafoodSource recently caught up with Nichols to talk about the challenges of creating a new category of farmed salmon, what the future holds for Verlasso and his passion for sustainable aquaculture. This is part one of a two-part interview. Click here to read part two.
Hedlund: How did Verlasso get its start?
Nichols: This began within DuPont, as a program to make omega-3 fatty acids in yeast. And the original target market for that program was human supplements. I came to it with the view that this would be extremely useful in salmon aquaculture, because what we would be able to do is to replace pelagic fish oil with the omega-3s made in the yeast. So one of the first things I did was to talk to Alfonso Marquez de la Plata, who’s the CEO of AquaChile and now one of the directors of Verlasso. Alfonso has a tremendous interest in providing an expanding supply of healthy food to people, and this matched really well with my interest, which was to find the most environmentally conscientious way of providing food for people, particularly with salmon aquaculture. And that was the beginning of what lead to the creation of Verlasso.
Was there a lot of testing associated with the new feed?
There were two phases. First we did a number of feeding trials. By removing the fish oil from the diet of the fish and replacing it with the omega-3s made in the yeast, we provided a revolutionary change in the diet [in terms of] FFDR (feed fish dependency ratio). And what we wanted to do at first is show ourselves that this was, in fact, good for the salmon and that we would be able to produce the same high quality, good tasting salmon that people expect. We did a number of feeding trials, and we did achieve that. And then what we did is begin to feed fish for commercial production last May, and those fish will be ready to harvest in late September or early October, at which time they’ll be ready for market delivery.
What sets Verlasso salmon apart from conventionally raised salmon?
The primary thing that we think we’re bringing to the market, amongst many, is the change in FFDR from 4 to 1. We really fell like this is a revolutionary change in the way that fish are being farmed, and that it takes something that is inherently unsustainable and makes it sustainable. As we began, our focus was on FFDR. But there’s a totality of things that go into salmon aquaculture. And we began to take a broader view of a completely balanced approach that takes into account the pelagic fish, the ocean environment, the health of the salmon, the health of the people who eat the salmon and the community of people who raise the salmon. All of these things come together into a whole compendium of best practices.
What type of initial feedback is Verlasso receiving about its salmon?
There is a lot of excitement around what harmonious aquaculture can deliver, and that Verlasso is committed to this continuous improvement of practices wherever we can find ways to improve ourselves. Sustainability and environmental stewardship resonates with a lot of people. There’s also the taste and texture of the fish. One of the things that I’ve tried to tell myself is, ‘If I’m going to talk about this fish, it behooves me to eat a lot of it.’ So that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. I’ve been able to cook it in many different ways. And it really is a different eating experience. What we find is that we go to seafood buyers who have a really discerning palate with respect to seafood, they comment on it immediately. The taste and texture of the fish is really pleasant.