Thu, Mar 01, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Japan firm seeks to spawn salmon farm revolution

FRD Japan one day hopes that its methods will allow cost-effective inland farming of salmon, and enable Japanese to use the homegrown fish for their sushi

By Natsuko Fukue  /  AFP, SAITAMA

Chief operating officer of FRD Japan, Tetsuro Sogo, looks in January at gray salmon in a tank at the company’s test facility in Saitama.

Photo: AFP

Japan may be an island nation surrounded by the bounty of the sea, but businessman Tetsuro Sogo is looking inland to raise one of the country’s most loved sushi fish: salmon.

In a mountainous area near Tokyo, the water in a tank is a murk of writhing grey salmon, slithering past each other as they angle for food.

They are part of an experiment that Sogo, chief operating officer at FRD Japan, hopes will one day allow cost-effective inland farming of salmon, and enable Japanese to buy the homegrown fish for their sushi.

“We’ll be able to easily get quality salmon wherever we are,” Sogo said.

The majority of the salmon consumed worldwide is farmed, not wild, and the aquaculture market is dominated by Norway, which produces 1.3 million tonnes a year.

But farming at sea, the most common way to produce the fish, is a complicated prospect: the sea must be the right temperature — colder than 20 degrees Celsius — and only areas without strong waves and currents are suitable, normally inlets or bays.

Inland farming of salmon is often an impractical, expensive endeavor requiring lots of water and electricity to keep tanks clean.

That hasn’t stopped demand exploding since the 1980s, with the US, Russia, Europe and Japan all clamoring for the fish’s rich pink flesh, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

“Supply is not catching up with the growing demand,” said Sogo, speaking at his test facility in Saitama, 50km. Dressed in a suit like a typical Japanese salaryman, except for a pair of white rubber boots, Sogo carefully monitors the fish as though he is watching his own children.

“We thought we needed a new way to produce more salmon.”

KEEPING IT CLEAN

The company’s process is two-fold: first, simple tap water is converted to seawater by adding artificial sea salt, which allows the farming process to be set up anywhere tap water is available.

Second, a patented technology involving bacteria cleans the water, consuming the ammonia produced by the fish, and dissolving nitric acid, meaning energy-sucking cleaning systems are not necessary.

“We’ll be the world’s first successful case for this type of land-based salmon farming if we can turn a profit,” Sogo said.

The process was born out of technology developed by Sogo’s company for sewage disposal systems.

In 2008, they developed the breakthrough bacteria technology and the following year it was being used at an aquarium in Tokyo, at which point Sogo realized it could be used for salmon farming.

The innovation could be a massive boon for Japan, where a survey last year found salmon was the country’s favorite sushi fish.

It first began appearing in restaurants in Japan in the 1980s, after the Norwegian Seafood Council began a campaign to popularize it.

But Sogo hopes Japan can one day overtake Norway’s production, and export the technology to other consumers in the region.

“Asian markets are likely to grow bigger than the Japanese market,” said Sogo.

“We’re looking at the possibility of delivering fresh salmon there [through technology imports].”

SCALING UP

After a test run last year, which produced one tonne of salmon that was sold to a major supermarket in Tokyo, Sogo plans to have a larger pilot facility up and running by July in Chiba, near Tokyo, producing 30 tonnes a year.

By 2020, the firm is aiming for a commercial plant capable of producing 1,500 tonnes of sushi-ready salmon.

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