Born in Norway, Johan Andreassen has run salmon farms for decades, but his latest is unusually located 24km inland, near Miami, Florida. “It doesn’t seem logical,” he admits.
Farmed salmon is normally raised in controlled net pens in Norwegian fjords – this is what Andreassen did with his last company, Villa Organic. But he realised that shipping salmon via air freight to the US, the company’s largest market, meant his life’s work wasn’t truly sustainable. “Even if the production itself in Norway was relatively sustainable, shipping from continent to continent with aeroplanes… it just doesn’t feel right,” he says.
After selling his stake in Villa Organic, Andreassen co-founded Atlantic Sapphire in 2010 to develop “bluehouses” – like a greenhouse, but for salmon. Fish are kept in different tanks depending on the stage of their life – salmon switch between fresh and sea water as they age – with clean, oxygen-injected water circulating to give the effect of currents. “It’s an ideal environment for the fish,” he says.
The work hasn’t all been going swimmingly. The Florida facility was forced to harvest 200,000 fish early after construction activity sparked damaging “salmon stress”, while high nitrogen levels at its Copenhagen location killed off 227,000 fish. But when the system works, the salmon grow to harvestable size six to nine months faster than they would in the wild, as the fish don’t face predators, parasites or cold Norwegian winters.
They’re also leaner, because the water current is stronger than in nature. “It becomes very muscular,” says Andreassen. “And it has a milder taste, less of what we call the fishy flavour.” This appeals to American palates.
But taste preferences are not why the company selected Florida as the site of its first Bluehouse following the test facility in Copenhagen. While an unnatural location for cold-water fish, the southern state has unique natural characteristics: underground are level after level of aquifers. Atlantic Sapphire needs stable, clean and biosecure sources of fresh and seawater – dig down deep enough, about 450m, and both are available.
It also needs somewhere to put its wastewater, which isn’t toxic but is loaded with nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, so can’t simply be pumped out to sea. Drill down 900m, and there are cavernous formations of limestone rock. Inject the wastewater, and it’s naturally purified. “That is the main reason we’re here,” he says. “We couldn’t have done this at scale without an environmental impact any other place.”
Andreassen’s land-locked, Florida-bred salmon is already available in US shops, and in 2021, Atlantic Sapphire plans to harvest ten million kilograms of its bluehouse-branded fish, enough for 30 million meals.
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