Startup Profile: SweetSpring Offers Sustainable Solution to Farmed Salmon
October 31, 2011 | Jenny Frech
Consumers are up in arms over the environmental damage that results from conventional salmon farming, and many grocery retailers including Target have pulled farmed salmon from their stores in favor of wild and sustainably sourced product.
Environmental fall out from traditional, high-density open pen salmon farming includes the transmission of parasites like sea lice to wild populations, escaped salmon, lack of waste management, release of chemicals like antibiotics, wasted feed, and a high mortality rate.
To meet consumer demand for Salmon in a way that does not harm the environment, SweetSpring™ Salmon has developed a solution to sustainably farm Salmon using a land-based controlled environment in combination with a natural breeding program that allows Coho salmon to be raised in freshwater.
The Coho salmon are raised from egg to plate in tanks that are specially designed to recirculate freshwater in order to reduce water usage and more efficiently manage waste than a traditional open ocean pen.
According to Per Heggelund, the Founder and President of SweetSpring Salmon, the line of Coho salmon that his company produces is raised on a feed mixture of fish, soy and barley proteins, and omega-3 from algae, that leads to a lower fish-in-fish-out ratio.
Waste byproduct from the tanks can also be recycled for use as fertilizer for crops. Most importantly, land-locked farmed salmon do not come in contact with fragile wild populations.
SweetSpring™ Salmon recently became the first farmed salmon product to make The Seafood Watch® Super Green List. Super Green seafood must be sustainable for fish populations and healthy for humans, with high omega-3 and low contaminants.
With respect to consumer demand for the type of product that his company produces, Heggelund said he sees a “market for sustainably grown salmon, particularly grown in the heartland. Food service is gravitating toward only serving sustainable farmed and caught (seafood).”
As part of its business model, SweetSpring ships its salmon eggs to producers around the country and helps them to set up their own sustainable operations. For example, a Hutterite community in Bynum, Montana is working with SweetSpring Salmon to implement a land-based controlled environment salmon-farming model.
According to an article in the Capital Press, the Hutterite community their will produce about 72,000 pounds of sustainably grown Coho Salmon this year to be sold under the SweetSpring label.
The startup costs for such an operation are not cheap. Heggelund said that it costs around $2.5 million to install the proprietary tanks and technology.
However, he said that “although the systems are complex and seemingly expensive to buy and maintain, when environmental costs and customer demand are factored, it can be an economically viable choice.”
When looking to the future, Heggelund said, “We import $2 billion of salmon into the U.S. each year. I am excited to be able to replace some of that.”