Closed Containment Q&A

Closed containment aquaculture is a solution scientists, conservationists, and citizens that want to keep wild salmon around have been asking for, for a really long time. Closed systems separate farmed fish from wild fish to avoid the problems with waste, sea lice, disease and escapes that have been plaguing the net-pen industry and threatening wild salmon for so many years.

Now it is finally here! Overwaitea Food Group (OFG) has become the first Canadian grocery chain to make sustainable farmed salmon broadly available. OFG is now the exclusive North American retailer for coho salmon sustainably farmed in a land-based closed containment system.

Check out the Q & A to see how closed containment is different from net-pen farmed salmon:

Why is salmon farmed in closed containment more sustainable than net-cage farmed salmon?

Coho salmon being sold at Overwaitea stores (Save On Foods, Overwaitea, Price Smart, Urban Fare, Bulkley Valley) is raised in a land-based closed containment operation that has received a “Best Choice” ranking for environmental sustainability. Closed systems separate farmed fish from wild fish and the environment allowing waste, escapes, and spread of disease and sea lice to be controlled. For all of these impacts this closed containment salmon ranked “Best Choice” where net-pen farmed salmon ranked “Avoid.” Check out the video below showing the closed containment salmon farm where the Coho are grown:

SweetSpring Salmon Farm

What about the feed? How much wild fish is needed to raise closed containment salmon?

Reducing the dependence on wild fish in aquaculture feeds is critical for sustainability. This closed containment farmed salmon has made improvements in their feed sources to reduce the amount of wild fish needed, but it is still not perfect. They are using fish processing byproducts in order to more efficiently use marine resources and have reduced the overall amount of fish used. The amount of “wild Fish in” to “farmed fish out” is 1.2 to 1, significantly lower than typical salmon feed. Further reductions are planned. Use of marine resources ranked as “Some Concerns” in comparison to “Avoid” for a typical net-pen farmed salmon.

Are antibiotics or chemicals used to raise closed containment salmon?

Some of the same reasons that fish raised in closed containment pose less risk to wild fish also help protect the farmed fish from disease. Having a physical barrier between the farmed and wild environments eliminates the transfer of disease or sea lice into the farm. Also, this Coho closed containment farm uses water from a pathogen-free source. Protection from disease entering the farm means fish do not need to be treated with the chemicals and antibiotics that net-pen farms use.

Are there other types of farmed salmon that have a “Best Choice” sustainability ranking?

This salmon is the only farmed salmon to attain a “Best Choice” ranking based on the transparent, science-based assessments completed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and SeaChoice. A number of “eco-labels” are now appearing on some Atlantic farmed salmon raised in net-pens, but net-pen systems are unable to adequately address major environmental impacts like escapes, disease and sea lice transfer, and waste that harms the marine environment.

Why isn’t closed containment technology more widely used?

Closed containment technology is developing rapidly and is being used for salmon and many other types of fish. With increasing demand for sustainable seafood we expect to see an increasing shift towards adoption of closed containment technology. The existing net-pen industry has resisted changes to their farming practices and business model. This resistance is coming at a cost to our environment and wild fish, which is one of the reasons supporting the closed containment salmon available in the marketplace now is so important.

Some people say closed containment salmon isn’t better for the environment because it has a larger carbon footprint. Is this true?

Improved technology continues to greatly improve the energy performance of closed containment systems. A frequently cited study on the energy use of closed containment looked at an experimental closed system that is no longer in use. Going forward, alternative energy sources offer promising ways to further reduce their carbon footprint. The challenge of energy-efficiency and lowering the carbon footprint is solvable but there are no effective solutions to solve the environmental problems of net-pen salmon farming. Click here for more information on the energy consumption question.

Sounds pretty good from an environmental perspective, but what about the taste and is it wallet friendly?

This salmon, similar to Atlantic farmed salmon, has a somewhat lighter, less fishy taste than wild salmon. At the first launch of closed containment Coho in Canada customers gave good reviews on the taste. Overwaitea Food Group is selling closed containment Coho for the same price as net-pen raised Atlantic salmon. There is an increased cost in production because closed containment farms actually pay the full cost of growing fish instead of letting the environment bear the cost. However, closed containment salmon can still be sold to consumers at a competitive price. A great deal considering that, unlike open net-pens, they pay the full cost of waste disposal, disease control and preventing escapes.

Download a PDF of this Q&A: A change for the better in salmon farming: closed containment