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Salmon Aquaculture: An Interview with FRD Japan

This is part of a series of blog posts and videos exploring how we can design sustainable food systems. Food production for human consumption generates negative impacts on the environment, creating trade-offs between human activity and ecosystem integrity. We listen to the voices of people on food supply chains–e.g., farmers, fishers, foresters, traders, retailers, and consumers–to understand some challenges, contradictions, and trade-offs that underlie the foundation of our food systems. This also contributes to and is linked to integrating sustainability into university curriculum and everyday teaching. By accumulating a wealth of knowledge through research and interacting with students through teaching, we collaborate with concerned people and amplify our voice for the need of alternative food systems, which are based on the principles of social-ecological justice and sustainability.

In this post, we feature an interview with FRD Japan, a company pioneering in land-based aquaculture in Japan. FRD Japan, founded in 2013 and headquartered in Saitama Prefecture, aims to create a future where fish can be sustainably produced through closed recirculating aquaculture systems, ensuring a fresh and safe supply of fish without depending on the ocean.

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Q1: Given the current state of our global environment, engaging in sustainable practices is more important than ever. In this context, why is land-based salmon farming considered a sustainable practice?

Generally, salmon species are farmed in cold-water coastal areas. Moreover, they can only be raised in areas with inlets such as fjords, which is why Chile and Norway have been the predominant suppliers meeting global demands for fish. As a result, high-density farming has become necessary, resulting in regions where fish are produced in quantities that exceed the natural self-cleaning capacity of the sea.

However, there are concerns about the accumulation of feces and leftover feed on the seabed, particularly in Chile where antibiotics in feed are used, killing seabed bacteria and causing marine pollution issues.

Given this background, it seems unlikely that production volumes will continue to increase in Chile and Norway due to their policy of not issuing new aquaculture licenses. In such circumstances, land-based aquaculture, which does not rely on the sea, is positioned to meet the growing global demand for salmon in the future. By farming without seawater, land-based aquaculture can significantly reduce the risk of marine pollution. Continuing production in a way that doesn’t burden the environment amid growing demand makes land-based aquaculture a sustainable choice.

Q. 2: What are the advantages of land-based salmon aquaculture compared to conventional offshore aquaculture?

The success of commercially viable land-based aquaculture using recirculating systems has not yet been widely observed worldwide. There are two main types: semi-closed and closed aquaculture systems, differing primarily in the amount of water exchange. Traditional semi-closed systems typically exchange about 30% of tank water with seawater or river water daily. In contrast, closed systems reduce this exchange to around 1%, which is their primary advantage.

When raising salmon in Japan, for example, replacing 30% of the tank water with seawater or river water during the summer introduces very warm water into the tank. Cooling this to the optimal 15 degrees celsius for salmon incurs high electricity costs, making summer aquaculture challenging. Closed systems, with their minimal water exchange of around 1%, maintain consistent water temperatures year-round, enabling continuous salmon production.

Compared to existing semi-closed systems, closed systems offer several advantages. They use tap water or well water, avoiding the risk of pathogens entering the tanks from the seawater. Therefore, there are lower risks of disease, and land-based aquaculture can be conducted without the use of antibiotics, unlike offshoring aquaculture systems where antibiotic use is common. Another benefit is that it significantly reduces the risk of mass mortality events, as closed systems are less susceptible to natural disasters and upstream pollution.

Globally, only a limited number of companies currently use closed aquaculture systems. FRD distinguishes itself by using its own technology, handling everything from designing and constructing the facilities to raising the fish. In 2018, FRD constructed a demonstration plant in Kisarazu City and conducted research and development for about six years. During this period, we verified the water quality, feed, seedlings, and other aspects to achieve our growth targets. We finally managed to achieve stable growth and decided to transition to a commercial plant. Building on this knowledge, we are aiming for commercialization in Futtsu City.

Q. 3: Were there any challenges in commercializing land-based aquaculture?

In Japan, there are many small-scale land-based aquaculture farms. However, it is difficult to commercialize on a small scale, and scaling up is necessary to reduce costs. For commercial-scale salmon aquaculture, we believe that an annual production of several thousand tons is necessary, and our company plans to produce 3,500 tons annually in the future. Securing over 20 billion yen for the construction of such large-scale aquaculture facilities was a major challenge.

Additionally, it is crucial to listen to the voices of local residents when constructing land-based aquaculture facilities. In Futtsu City, city representatives, including the mayor, have expressed proactive support for our activities. Once our facility is completed in Futtsu, it is expected to increase salmon shipments and contribute to the local economy and employment. On the other hand, concerns about large-scale construction have been raised by neighboring residents. Prior to construction, a community briefing session was held, and construction began after obtaining understanding from nearby residents.

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