The Freshwater Institute and SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture—a technology and industry research organization focusing on the utilization of renewable marine resources—joined forces to compare the economic viability and carbon footprint of  open net pen and RAS methods of Atlantic salmon production. The resulting paper looks at the return on investment, production cost, market price and greenhouse gas impacts of open net pen and RAS technologies. A few highlights from the paper include:

  • The cost of producing salmon in land-based closed containment RAS is roughly the same as that of traditional open net pen salmon farming systems.
  • The return on investment for traditional open net pen salmon farming is twice that of land-based closed containment RAS when RAS salmon is sold at a premium price.
  • The carbon footprint of salmon produced in land-based RAS delivered fresh to market in the U.S. is less than half that of open net pen salmon delivered from Norway to the U.S. by air freight.
FI LBCC vs ONP barchart footprint comparison
Carbon footprint for RAS-based salmon farming running (1a) on typical US electricity and (1b) on hydropower compared to Norwegian open net pen salmon farming transported (2a) by airfreight and (2b) by ship.

Why It Matters

As both the demand for seafood and the threat of over fishing increase, aquaculture—or fish farming—has already become the source of more than half of the world’s seafood production. The U.S. alone consumes an estimated 770 million pounds of farmed Atlantic salmon per year. Though open net pen farming is one of the most widely used production methods for farming salmon globally, limited access to suitable coastal water areas make it a difficult method to use in the United States. Freshwater, land-based RAS offer a viable alternative that allows for the flexibility to construct local aquaculture production systems anywhere, reduces the expense and carbon footprint of transportation, and increases the supply of traceable, nutritious seafood farmed in the U.S.

“Seafood already plays a significant role in our food systems, and that role is only going to increase. That’s why collaborations like this that look at the benefits of different production technologies are so important in the effort to find sustainable, cost-effective ways to deliver seafood to consumers that doesn’t negatively impact our environment.”

-Trond Rosten, Senior Advisor, SINTEF

The study was part of a five-year project of the Freshwater Institute with the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Results from this project are being used to develop ways to increase the cost competitiveness and return on investment of land-based RAS systems.

Read the full paper here: Comparative economic performance and carbon footprint of two farming models for producing Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar): Land-based closed containment system in freshwater and open net pen in seawater