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Norwegian company secures financing for industrial-scale salmon farm in rural Nevada

Debra Reid and Michelle Cook

Nevada News Group

A schematic of the project planned for rural Northern Nevada, about 70 miles north of Lovelock and 20 miles south of Winnemucca.
Courtesy Nutreco

WINNEMUCCA, Nev. — Raising salmon in the desert seems like an unlikely mission, but that is exactly what Norwegian-based West Coast Salmon AS intends to do.

The company announced in early October it had secured a first round of financing for a land-based Atlantic salmon farm facility near the Humboldt/Pershing County line.

Ralph Runge, project manager for the company, says the farm has been in development for over a year, adding that impacts from COVID-19 slowed the project down, but the company is ready to move forward.

“We’re excited about world-class water recycling technology and we’ll be close to the West Coast markets to provide fresh fish for the health-conscious consumer,” Runge said.

Runge said the company — which intends to have its corporate headquarters in Winnemucca — secured land at the Cosgrave Ranch in Pershing County with water rights for the project.

The initial round of funding will allow the company to begin design plans for the facility.

According to various press releases, the project is expected to move through three phases, with an increase in production from 15,000 tons beginning with phase one and total production of 60,000 tons by the end of phase three.

Runge says the Northern Nevada facility will be the largest land-based farming operation of its kind. Construction is expected to begin mid-2021 with the first salmon harvest in the second half of 2024.

Pershing County Economic Development Director Heidi Lusby-Angvick told the Pershing County Commission last month the industrial-scale project — long referred to as a “mystery project” due to years of negotiations and legal concerns over groundwater flows and irrigation shortages — will be located about 70 miles north of Lovelock and 22 miles south of Winnemucca.

Aquaculture qualifies as agriculture, so a special use permit will not be needed, she said, adding that Pershing County will receive immediate benefits from the 1.2 million-square-foot, first-phase construction project.

“There’s going to be a substantial building permit fee for a project that size,” said County Commissioner Rob McDougal. “I want to be involved so I can help shepherd this project through the building department, those kinds of hurdles, so it’s as seamless and easy as possible.”

Construction will require about 500 to 600 workers, Lusby-Angvick said, and the permanent workforce will start at 150 to 200 people and “will potentially be twice that number” if the fish farm expands.

Jan Morrison of the Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority compared the potential economic benefits of salmon production to lithium production being undertaken by Reno-based company Lithium Nevada in nearby Humboldt County.

“This project is comparable in size to Lithium Nevada and further diversifies our economy,” she said in a “Mystery project revealed” email to county leaders. “Lithium Nevada is already leading that front by not only mining the resource but processing it here in Humboldt County.”

West Coast Salmon has partnered with AquaMaof Aquaculture Technologies on the project. The Israeli company provides state-of-the-art recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) used to keep the salmon’s environment healthy and sustainable.

In addition to AquaMaof, other key investors in the project include New York City-based private equity firm Bregal Partners; Santa Monica, California-based Beach Point Capital Management; and Netherlands-based animal nutrition company Nutreco.

“We are extremely honored to take part in this innovative project and to support the West Coast Salmon team and investors on their mission to supply the local market with fresh, clean, healthy, and sustainably-produced salmon,” David Hazut, chief executive of AquaMaof, said in a statement.

West Coast Salmon will reportedly evaluate a potential stock listing later in 2021 or the first half of 2022. DNB Markets and Pareto Securities acted as joint global coordinators, and SEB and Danske Bank as co-managers, in the private placement.

Meanwhile, Runge said the RAS technology will enable West Coast Salmon to recycle 99.99% of the water the facility uses. The rest will be treated and used in pivots for irrigation or returned to ecosystem.

The facility will also be bio-secure, Runge says, meaning the company will take measures to prevent the introduction of harmful organisms into the system.

Land-based fish farming is increasingly being considered as a more sustainable alternative to open-water fish farms. Runge says open-water fish farms have problems because it is difficult to control the environment.

“In Chile, which is one of the leading fish farming countries in the world, new sea pens are banned,” Runge says, “because you have problems with pollution, disease and predators.”

In the U.S., Washington passed legislation in 2018 banning open-sea pens in response to an incident when high winds collapsed the pens of a fish farm. The incident let up to 263,000 Atlantic salmon loose into the Pacific Ocean, raising concerns the invasive fish could harm native Pacific salmon runs.

Due to health benefits from eating salmon, worldwide consumption is three times higher than it was in 1980. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults consume about eight ounces per week of a variety of seafood, including at least some choices higher in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, because seafood has been associated with heart health benefits.

Because of increased demand, salmon aquaculture is the fastest growing food production system in the world — accounting for 70% (2.5 million metric tons) of the market. According to NOAA Fisheries data, a majority of salmon is imported from Chile (49%), Canada (24%) and Norway (17%).