BC's Gold River Aquafarms aiming to break ground on steelhead RAS in Q3 2023

A rendering of the proposed facility at Gold River Aquafarms.

Planning continues on a project that could provide a way forward for Canada’s land-based aquaculture industry. 

Gold River Aquafarms is seeking to build a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) facility on the site of a former sawmill in the village of Gold River, British Columbia, to produce steelhead trout. Company president Rob Walker said at full production, the facility will produce 3,000 metric tons of steelhead annually. 

Planning for the project began three years ago, when the company submitted permit applications to federal and provincial authorities. To date, the company has received the go-ahead from Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and is currently waiting approvals for provincial water and effluent permits. 

“The regulatory piece is still up in the air, but not critically,” he said.

The other piece to the puzzle is financial – a commonality among companies seeking to construct viable RAS operations in North America. Walker said Gold River has secured enough funding to carry out engineering and hydrological work, and is still looking to raise additional development capital.

But recent events in the RAS sector means investors could need a little more convincing. Atlantic Sapphire, a major industry player, saw its  share price crash last October after revising its revenue expectations and announcing increasing mortalities, resulting in lower average harvest weights. The company has since said it will now prioritize its existing operations over continued expansion

“Atlantic Sapphire has had some pains and the investment world has gone from bullish to slightly bullish,” Walker said.

Because RAS farming is still a nascent industry, there’s little for investors to compare a project to, Walker said.

“Investors who are unsophisticated in the RAS world, they have an unease because they don’t have the experience. It is something new to them,” Walker said. “They believe in this, but they have a huge responsibility. There are risks they need to consider.”

Even with a challenging investment climate, Walker said the farm's proposed location on the site of a former sawmill provides several benefits that could convince would-be investors to jump onboard.

“What’s left is a couple of substantial warehouses and deep concrete floors,” he said. “This is an ideal situation for us, which will save us a pile [of money] on infrastructure costs.”

An additional selling point Walker cited for his project is an offtake agreement the company has in place with a Vancouver distributor to take all of the farm's production.

Walker said if all goes according to plan, Gold River Aquafarms will be in a position to break ground in Q3 2023. The project has received support from the local government of the village of Gold River and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, and would provide dozens of construction and operations jobs while helping diversify the village’s economy, Walker said.

The project is taking off as B.C.’s wild salmon fisheries are feared to be facing commerical collapse due to poor runs, and while the future of open net-pen fish farming in the province is being debated. The government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously issued a mandate for a swift phasing out of open net-pen salmon farming in B.C., though recent comments from Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Minister Joyce Murray appear to show the government is changing course. In October 2023, Murray called for an effort to minimize interactions between farmed and wild fish, while also encouraging innovations in aquaculture technology, according to the Vancouver Sun.

It’s a shift that could play into Gold River’s plans ... 

Image courtesy of Gold River Aquafarms

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