The high desert of Nevada may soon become the West Coast’s largest supplier of farm-raised Atlantic salmon.
West Coast Salmon of Nevada last week spoke with NNBW about its ambitious plans to build an industrial-scale Atlantic salmon farming operation near the Cosgrove Rest Area in northern Pershing County. The site lies about 15 miles southwest of Winnemucca and was a former hay farming operation, said Ralph Runge, vice president of development for West Coast Salmon of Nevada.
WCS closed on the 2,200-acre property in 2020 and has spent the past few years advancing its plans and refining design plans for the facility, Runge said. The first phase of development on between 300 to 400 acres is expected to produce about 15,000 tons of live Atlantic salmon that will be gutted locally when mature and further processed at facilities in Oregon, Washington and California.
“Our idea is to just plug in to the production chain,” Runge told NNBW during a video call. “Eventually, we will want to begin our own filetting, branding and marketing operations. This is a way to hold the (project) complexity and capital down in the first phase and use the processing chain that’s already there.”
Ralph N. Runge
The first phase of infrastructure development for the operation is expected to encompass between 700,000 to 800,000 square feet under roof, with final buildout as much as four times larger than the initial phase, Runge said. West Coast Salmon of Nevada is awaiting the close of equity financing to finish advancing its plans and begin the initial sitework and mass grading.
“We don’t have all our equity financing in place, and that’s an important step for us,” Runge said. “All of our plans in terms of breaking ground and completing design are driven off that equity close.”
Current equity partners include international private investment firm Bregal Private Equity Partners and feed company Nutreco B.V. of The Netherlands. Feed is the single-largest expense of an aquaculture facility, Runge noted, followed by power.
At full buildout, the project is expected to cost in the range of $300 to $400 million, Runge said.
The Future of Farm-Raised Fish
The WCS facility will consist of several parts, including a hatchery and fingerling/smolt area where fish are fattened, followed by increasingly larger grow-out tanks. The final grow-out tanks are 85 feet in diameter and 25 feet deep. In the final phase of growth, the salmon are purged with water to remove as much waste as possible from their systems before harvesting.
Fully-grown Atlantic salmon weigh at or near 12 pounds, Runge said. Ultimately, he added. West Coast Salmon of Nevada would produce as much as 60,000 tons of Atlantic salmon annually at the site.
“The future of fish is really onshore,” he said. “Wildlife fisheries are being overfished and are in decline. Net pens, which is the way a lot of fish are raised, are under a lot of environmental pressure – British Columbia announced they are going to phase theirs out by 2025, and Norway has put a resource tax on theirs.
“The pressure is there to continue developing this technology and move onshore where you can control factors that you can’t control in open water.”
The operation will be unlike any other in Pershing or neighboring Humboldt County, where hard rock mining has been a major regional employer for decades. The fish facility will be more like working at a Silicon Valley semiconductor chip manufacturing site.
“These are bio-secure facilities,” Runge said. “If you are going to introduce a pathogen into an enclosed system with a lot of biomass in it, it will wipe (the fish) out fairly quickly. Think like a data center where you have to card swipe to get in, and disinfectant stations you have to go through – it is an elaborate biosecure facility.”
West Coast Salmon of Nevada purchased the 2,200 acres to secure enough water rights for its aquaculture operations. Runge said the company has a state water allotment to consume 1,326 acre feet a year. The majority of water will be used in the finishing system to purge the salmon, but water used in aquaculture operations will be cleansed and reintroduced to the aquifer through rapid infiltration basins, he added.
“We want to be part of the water solution in Nevada and the American West,” Runge said. “This is a proven technology. We know that most of our (water) losses are from evaporation, and that’s where we will focus our conservation efforts.”
More than 99 percent of water used at the facility will be recycled, Runge added.
“It’s a very closed-loop system,” he said. “We separate the manure out, disinfect the water, re-oxygenate it, and send it back into the tank. It’s a very efficient use of water, and very efficient use of water per pound of protein.”
West Coast Salmon of Nevada in December received tax abatements from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development totaling more than $16 million. Runge said the company expects to employ as many as 85 in its initial stage of operation. West Coast Salmon of Nevada is expected to invest nearly $180 million to get its initial phase operational, the GOED office reports.
Runge said he’s often asked why a company would raise fish in the middle of Nevada’s high desert. The answer, he said, is because Nevada is a business-friendly state that’s close to the West Coast, which is one of the largest salmon markets in the world.
Nevada’s arid climate and low cost for power are also important factors.
“I have been working here for over two years, and the support from communities, the state, and even water groups has been overwhelming for this project,” Runge said. “The arid climate helps us. Electricity is our second-largest cost – we have to pump a lot of water, and we also have to cool it. If you are in a moist, humid atmosphere, you have to take all that humidity out. Having a very arid climate helps our operating costs.
“We think the West Coast market is attractive,” he added. “The climate, geology and support from the state are very important for the location of our facility.”
West Coast Salmon of Nevada plans to use solar power to supplement what it draws from the power grid, and it also will build a large battery storage system to ensure available power at all times.
The facility also provides a unique work option for Humboldt and Pershing county residents who may tire of the hard rock mining life and hours-long bus rides to remote mine sites.
“We know we are in competition with the mines for labor, and they have much deeper pockets,” Runge said. “We are very cognizant of the fact that the workforce is very tight and housing is an issue in Northern Nevada.
“These are highly computerized controlled processes,” he added. “It is not manual labor, but paying attention to detail on fish health and being able to run process controllers and computer controls. We are hoping to attract a lot of women – it’s not a manual intensive job.”