Raising salmon in the desert seems like an unlikely mission, but that is exactly what the Norwegian based company West Coast Salmon AS intends to do. The company recently announced that it has secured a first round of financing to begin planning for a land-based Atlantic Salmon farm facility near the Humboldt and Pershing County line. 

Ralph Runge, project manager for the company, says the project has been in development for over a year. Runge says impacts from COVID-19 slowed the project down but says the company is ready to move forward with the project. “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 the company secured the Cosgrave Ranch with water rights. The ranch is north of Mill City. 

This round of funding will allow the company to begin design plans for the facility. 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 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. The company intends to have its corporate headquarters in Winnemucca, Runge says. 

West Coast Salmon has partnered with AquaMaof Aquaculture Technologies. The Israeli company provides state-of-the-art recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) used to keep the salmon’s environment healthy and sustainable. 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, which means 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 US, 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%).