Equipment failure kills 100,000 salmon worth $5-million at advanced land-based fish farm in N.S.

An equipment failure killed 100,000 Atlantic salmon worth $5-million at the Sustainable Blue land-based salmon farm in Nova Scotia earlier this month, the company said Tuesday.

A filter that removes carbon dioxide from holding tanks experienced a “structural collapse” on Nov. 4, the company told CBC News.

The land-based salmon farm is the only one in North America with zero waste discharge thanks to its proprietary water filtration system which constantly recirculates water on-site.

The fish kill has left the company unable to supply customers until June 2024.

“This is absolutely a setback. But we will get back on our feet. We will find the cause of the incident,” says CEO Kirk Havercroft.

Kirk Havercroft is the CEO of Sustainable Fish Farming. (CBC)

Why the carbon dioxide stripper malfunctioned is still under investigation.

It happened in the newest production building at the Sustainable Blue complex at Centre Burlington in Hants County near the Minas Basin.

Unable to supply customers for seven months

Fish inside five other buildings were unaffected but the malfunction killed off 20 per cent of production. The salmon were market ready, weighing between four and eight kilograms each.

The company will be unable to supply customers until smaller fish grow.

“The building did contain the largest fish that we had and that’s the reason why unfortunately now there’ll be a production interruption for approximately seven months,” Havercroft said.

The failed equipment eliminates carbon dioxide that fish release in the water and is a key part of the filtration system at the facility which produces 1,000 metric tonnes per year.

The CO2 stripper is unique to Sustainable Blue.

A large metal pole is in the middle of a circular vat filled with water and salmon.
Fish inside five other buildings were unaffected but the malfunction killed off 20 per cent of the salmon production. (CBC News)

Havercroft said the “structural collapse” was a construction failure and not an issue of technology performance.

The affected holding tanks were in a building completed in April 2022.

Havercroft said the building’s performance until the failure “had been exemplary and has comfortably reached operating design parameters with zero waste discharge.”

‘Isolated incident’

“We think this is an isolated incident,” Havecroft said.

“Our early indications are that it should be perfectly feasible to identify the cause of the incident.

“And we fully expect to be in a position of being able to repair it and bring everything back online by early March,” he said.

The company has insurance but it’s not clear what it will or will not cover.

Havercroft says its land-based salmon farm is viable and will recover from this setback.

“We all believe in this project. We believe that land-based salmon aquaculture will be important not just to Nova Scotia, but to the whole of North America. Our intention is to recover, move forward and implement a solution which means this incident hopefully never happens again.”

Federal government backing

The federal government has been an early and sustaining backer of the company.

Records from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency show about $3.5 million in funding to Sustainable Fish Farming Ltd., its registered corporate name, since 2006.

Most recently on Oct. 10 — less than a month before the fish kill — ACOA announced it provided $505,000 “to purchase advanced automated salmon processing equipment to increase efficiency, product quality, explore new markets and develop new value-added products by processing fish normally sent to the waste stream.”

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