With an internationally recognized research team of top scientists, engineers and technology experts, the Freshwater Institute develops and validates solutions for the sustainable use of our nation’s water resources. We are committed to developing new knowledge and technology that will help communities, our partners and clients solve important problems today and in the future.  
So how exactly did we get involved in fish production?

Freshwater vintageIn the early days of the Freshwater Institute, small trout systems were assembled on rural springs in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee as part of economic diversification efforts for small farmers. Photo by Joe HankinsAccording to Joe Hankins, Vice President of The Conservation Fund and Director of the Freshwater Institute, our original exploration of fish farming goes back to our earliest days as a program in 1987. Our early efforts were small scale trout production systems. We grew from that modest beginning to what is now an internationally recognized multi-disciplinary team of engineers, biologists, and even a veterinarian.

Now for over a decade, we have consulted with state and federal agencies about better wild salmon restoration and mitigation hatchery design strategies. We have also worked with the fish farming sector on production systems for: Atlantic and Coho salmon, rainbow trout and steelhead, Arctic char, yellow perch, walleye, Florida pompano, tripletail, and marine shrimp.

Growing Fish on Land

The challenge of a better way to farm Atlantic salmon in land-based systems is a tough problem that we had our eye on for years. Land-based closed-containment systems, also known as recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), are one of the most sustainable ways to raise fish—because the fish is grown on land and can be close to markets, not only is it as fresh as possible, but it creates a very low impact on the environment. In addition, closing the production system prevents escapees and excludes fish pathogens, which results in a high-quality fish produced without the need for vaccines, harsh chemicals or antibiotics. RAS also minimizes the need for a large volume of water supply and captures nearly all the solid waste for beneficial reuse.

Land-based RAS, however, requires a great understanding of the biology of a fish with a complex life history, the ability to engineer an aquaculture system that can sustain and grow salmon in excellent water quality, and the need to envision and build something at a large enough scale that tons of salmon can be produced economically. And, of course, the salmon produced must be top quality to compete in the seafood market place.

By growing salmon on land, in closed-containment tanks, we produce a 10- to 12-pound Atlantic salmon for the seafood market in just about 24 months from hatch. We control the feed quality, the lighting, the temperature, even the water current in the tanks that exercises the fish to fine fillet perfection.

Getting Fish to Market

Once we had the production and harvesting of salmon nailed down, we knew it was time for Freshwater to branch out and seek opportunities for local partnerships that would bring our sustainable fish to market.

FreshwaterInstitute KataSharrer001Fish at Freshwater Institute. Photo by Kata Sharrer, The Conservation Fund.Carl Salamone, Vice President of Seafood Sustainability for Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., has a passion for quality seafood and a 40-year career working in the industry. With that kind of career under his belt, it’s no surprise Carl seems to know everyone, whether you are a fisherman or a fish farmer. As soon as he heard about Freshwater’s work with land-based salmon he called and came for a visit to see for himself what we were doing. “When will you have fish to sell?” was Carl’s quick assessment.

At that time, we also had a great partnership blossoming with J.J. McDonnell, one of the best seafood distributors located at the Maryland Wholesale Seafood Center in Jessup, Maryland. Over the years, our work has connected us to Jessup and the seafood processing capability there. It takes a lot of skillful people and finely tuned logistics to get fish swimming in our tanks in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, to a seafood lover’s plate in Washington, D.C.

J.J. McDonnell has helped us with our test marketing and donations of fish to places like DC Central Kitchen. J.J. McDonnell also has a strong commitment to local and sustainable seafood, and, as it turns out, Wegmans local stores also depend on J.J. McDonnell for much of their fresh seafood supply. So when we approached J.J. McDonnell about helping us with the logistics of testing consumer reaction, it was a perfect opportunity to finally answer Carl Salamone’s question: “We’re ready for Wegmans!,” we said.

Since then, we have worked each year to continuously improve our production. The 2016 harvest – which was available in all Wegmans grocery stores in Maryland and Virginia labeled “local land-based salmon” – was the result of a study that researched cost-effective, environmentally friendly fish feed options. We worked with EWOS Canada, a fish feed and nutrition company, to develop a custom diet for our salmon that contains no fish meal or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“EWOS Canada is very excited to have worked with the Freshwater Institute to produce and supply a custom-formulated, sustainable grower diet based on North American materials which was used to produce market-size Atlantic salmon in their land-based closed-containment system,” said Jason Mann, Managing Director for EWOS Canada. “The special feed incorporates a natural pigment and has a zero fish in: fish out ratio, because it contains no fish meal and the fish oil included is a fish processing byproduct.  In fact, fish oil was the only lipid added to the feed in order to maximize its content of omega-3 fatty acids. The diet is also cost-competitive.”

The 2017 harvest was part of a study that looked at how exposure to light affected salmon growth. The fish will be served for a limited time at select D.C. restaurants and local Wegmans locations. 

Why This Project Matters

Freshwater Institute is demonstrating how to sustainably grow healthy, clean, nutritious and safe salmon that consumers can feel good about purchasing. Proving this, in 2014 Atlantic salmon raised using RAS received the Best Choice ranking—the highest—by Seafood Watch, a program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This watchdog organization helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that's fished or farmed in ways that have minimal impact on the environment.

Have you tried our salmon? Tell us what you think!

We’re also looking for investors that want to take this disruptive new seafood concept and run with it. You can contact Joe Hankins directly by phone at 304-876-2815 ext.212 or email at jhankins@conservationfund.org.

Freshwater Institute in the news 


News Article: Local, sustainable salmon makes a splash at Wegmans in Frederick (Frederick News-Post)

News Article: Freshwater Institute’s Fresh Ideas about Sustainable Seafood (Triple Pundit)

News Article: You Won’t Believe the Source of the World’s Most Sustainable Salmon (Time Magazine)

News Article: Land-farmed salmon: Coming (temporarily) to a restaurant or store near you (Washington Post)

News Article: Case Study: The Fish Have Landed (SeafoodSource)

News Article: Could fish farms help take pressure off wild stocks? (Bay Journal)

News Article: A Case Against Open-Net Salmon Farms (Fly Fisherman)