Nordic Aquafarms (NAF) is one of the early pioneers in RAS grow-out in Scandinavia in the past decade – the first one out in Norway with Atlantic Salmon and still the only producer of Yellowtail Kingfish in Denmark. We have often talked about learning cycles in RAS. Although we have avoided major incidents and have good biological results, we have had plenty of learning and fixing along the way. How you absorb and use that learning is critically important.
One of the first lessons we had was the value of a strong in-house RAS design team. NAF addressed this by establishing NAF Tech with a team of proven designers who had delivered facilities to MOWI, Grieg Seafood, and others. In the past 3 years we have had a design team with an excellent design track-record committed to NAF only. The benefit is also that they have strong ownership to solutions and outcomes.
Becoming familiar with and testing equipment in our pioneer facilities at moderate scale was vital for NAF. In our pioneer facilities we have dealt with corrosion issues, excessive noise in certain vendor equipment, equipment failures, and more issues in various vendor solutions. Over the past years we have worked through it all and made changes to correct problems. That learning has gone into the design of our future facilities.
Compliance is also a balancing act in a pioneer stage. On discharge, we are within total discharge limits for all our grow-out farms. We did experience discharge of certain nutrients above per kilo limits along the way in our Danish operation, which is a metric in Denmark. One lesson learned was that the optimal feed levels for Kingfish as a new RAS species were higher than first anticipated, with related discharge increases. This pointed to a need to also upgrade our hatchery operation which even with an overall small discharge ended up with somewhat higher discharge than anticipated. Even if our total Danish operation remains well below gross discharge limits, we are pushing down levels in both our facilities there to enable compliance and next step expansion. NAF has plenty of room to expand within our gross discharge permit levels in the near future. Treatment technology has developed significantly since the early days when Danish facilities were designed, and we are now upgrading with more advanced technology developed for our US projects. Salmon has been more predictable with all the accumulated knowledge in the industry on FCR and thus discharge levels.
The key in RAS learning curves is to work with the authorities on development and improvement plans, which has been the case in all our locations. With good adaptive management practices in place, it is possible to jointly address learning and improvement areas in a constructive manner. With COVID under control in Scandinavia, we are now in process with next step upgrades and expansion. Alongside that comes our US expansion.
We have always said it is wise to start RAS on a moderate scale, to learn, and then to scale. The learning cycles in RAS projects are 4-5 years – learning takes time. Our experience clearly demonstrates that it is crucial to allow for learning cycles to better manage risk before going to larger scale. This is how NAF has avoided major incidents, and why we will be well-positioned to avoid them in the future. The hard work continues!