Bostock J, Fletcher D, Badiola M & Murray F (2018) An update on the 2014 report: "Review of Recirculation Aquaculture System Technologies and their Commercial Application". Highlands & Islands Enterprise. Inverness. http://www.hie.co.uk/common/handlers/download-document.ashx?id=3880ee9c-4a4e-4aef-8eb8-026242104a5f
This report has been commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise to provide an update on the earlier report "Review of Recirculation Aquaculture System Technologies and their Commercial Application" from the same authors and published in 2014.
The leading salmon aquaculture companies are all making strategic investments in RAS, mainly for juvenile production. This has been a trend over the past 20 years and has contributed substantially to technology development. The established industry has therefore demonstrated a willingness to adopt RAS technologies where they perceive a strong business case, such as enabling more consistent year-round supplies of juveniles.
Parallel to the strategic adoption of RAS by existing salmon producers has been a series of RAS based grow-out projects based on a mix of optimistic technology promises and ethically driven enthusiasm for land-based farming drawing in investment from equity investors as well as government and other non-government organisations. Most of these have experienced a range of technical, financial and market problems and have either failed completely or are operating at a loss.
Nevertheless, there is substantial momentum and lessons are being learned and technology is developing at a faster rate than when previously assessed in 2014. The lack of investment in grow-out RAS by established producers, notably salmon companies already culturing smolts in RAS, may reflect their greater understanding of market and economic fundamentals and/or reluctance to invest in disruptive technology given their heavy investments in cage grow-out production. More encouragingly, entry into the RAS sector by major water and sanitation companies such as Veolia, capable of more standardised technology development suggests previous barriers will be overcome.
The immediate interest of the Scottish salmon industry is in strategies to reduce the impact of sea lice and other disease problems. One element of this is to reduce the time the fish are in sea cages through the stocking of post-smolts of between 250g and 1 kg in weight. It appears likely that landbased RAS could provide an economic means of achieving this, although sea-based closed containment systems are also being investigated as a potential alternative. Land-based RAS are also being used for cleaner fish production as another part of the sea lice control strategy.
RAS offers opportunities for new species development in Scotland, with examples including sturgeon (caviar), yellow tail, sole, tropical shrimp, and spiny lobster. However, these are generally high value products for which domestic markets may be more limited.
If already planned investments in salmon grow-out RAS go ahead in the USA, China and other important export markets for Scotland, long-term market opportunities are likely to be affected. A more substantial risk to the Scottish industry in the short to medium term could be a further decline in social license necessary to achieve ambitious growth-targets due to perceived conflicts with environmental and conservation targets. For this reason, combined with steadily maturing technology and new species opportunities, it is anticipated that aquaculture production using recirculated aquaculture systems will gradually expand in the coming years.
RAS; salmon; recirculated aquaculture system; aquaculture; fish farming
Consultancy report produced under contract with Ekos Limited for Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Update of previous 2014 report on the same topic.