Economic Case for Closed Containment

Closed containment aquaculture, a more sustainable alternative to net-cage salmon farming, is being increasingly adopted as the technology matures. A small portion of farmed salmon on the market is raised in closed systems in Canada, China and the US. (See examples of closed systems.)

Jobs & the Economy

A 2007 independent economic report prepared for a BC Legislative Committee concluded the entire BC salmon farming industry generates 2,900 direct, indirect and induced jobs. Meanwhile, the ecological impacts of net-cage salmon farming continue to threaten the commercial, sport, and First Nations wild fisheries, which support more than 16,000 jobs and contribute at least $1 billion to BC’s economy each year.

Two other key insights provided by this report include:

  1. The rise of net-cage aquaculture is negatively correlated with the harvest levels of wild salmon.
  2. Regardless of the steady and steep decline in harvest levels over the past two decades, the commercial and sport fishing industry continues to outstrip aquaculture in total contribution to GDP ($336 billion versus $252 billion) and total employees (5,728 versus 2,945).

In coastal regions such as the Great Bear Rainforest, much of the tourism industry relies on the health of the ecosystem. Wild salmon form the foundation of these coastal systems, nurturing the growth of ancient stream-side forests and providing a key food source for species on land and in the sea. Tourism activities based around wildlife—from viewing to sports fishing— depend on the abundance of species to attract visitors from around the world. Tourism employs 117,900 people in the province and adds $9.8 billion a year to the economy.

In northern BC, a report by IBM Consulting concluded the annual value of wild salmon to the Skeena River region alone is approximately $110 million. The expansion of open net-cage salmon farming into this area would jeopardize wild salmon stocks and the economic viability of businesses that rely on them.

An Enormous Opportunity in Green Technology

Closed containment is a green technology. Because closed systems are designed to capture fish waste, this can be used to produce energy using bio-digesters, perhaps enough to run the equipment required to power the entire facility. Land-based systems can also be sited closer to processing plants and communities so less fuel is required for the transportation of fish, equipment, fuel, crews and feed when compared to net-cage operations. Closed containment operations would also rely on reasonably priced land and access to clean water supply making BC the ideal location over key market regions such as southern California.

The transition to a sustainable aquaculture industry in Canada would not only provide long-term aquaculture employment in coastal communities and allow Canada to be at the forefront of green technology development in this sector – it would also provide the potential for a new trade sector and the export of green closed containment technology.

Catastrophic Events & Crop Losses

Industry opponents of closed containment aquaculture often raise the specter of “catastrophic events” in a contained system as an argument against adopting this technology. If a farm is fully dependent on pumps and power sources, it is argued, a power and back up generator failure, for example, means all farm stock could be lost. However, the occurrence of “catastrophic events” in net-cage systems is well documented and a shift to closed containment would decrease these types of crop losses. See a list of the most recent “catastrophic events” that have taken place in net-cages and the associated financial losses.


To inform discussions of economic viability, cost-benefit comparisons need to explicitly assess externalities. Externalities are costs currently borne by society or the environment and not by salmon producers, such as ‘free’ waste disposal from open net-cage farms into the marine environment. The net-cage salmon farming industry is not presently obliged by government to account for externalities therefore financial performance does not accurately reflect all costs.


(Pending) CAAR is currently working with the BC division of the largest salmon farming company in the world, Marine Harvest, on a closed containment pilot project. This project will include an economic feasibility assessment of a commercial-scale closed containment operation.

Technologies for Viable Salmon Aquaculture, An Examination of Land-Based Closed Containment Aquaculture. (2010) By Andrew S. Wright Ph.D & Nasim Arianpoo MSc.
An investigation into the feasibility of land- based closed containment technology for utilization in the British Columbia aquaculture industry. The study concludes that land-based closed containment is technically and economically feasible and that British Columbia is advantageously provisioned with key attributes that will continue to attract and retain the aquaculture industry.

Thriving Economies, Healthy Oceans. (2008) (Summary)
A global overview of closed system aquaculture technologies reveals a large and complex range of technologies that provide a better way to farm fish, and an enormous economic opportunity.