A brand new salmon farming system that has never been used in Canada before will be deployed in the waters near Vancouver Island later this year.

Cermaq Canada says it plans to deploy a semi-closed containment system (SCCS) salmon farm pen – a large circular-like steel structure capable of holding 750,000 salmon – at its Miller Channel farm in the Clayoquot Sound on a trial basis this coming November.

Assembly of one semi-closed containment system farming pen is currently underway in Port Alberni and is expected to take 10 weeks according to Cermaq, which says the system has never been used in Canada before.

“This is the first step leading up to the planned stocking of the SCCS at our Miller Channel farm site, off the west coast of Vancouver Island in Clayoquot Sound, in the traditional territory of the Ahousaht First Nation,” David Kiemele, managing director of Cermaq Canada, said in the release.

A semi-closed containment system or or semi-closed cage system is a new type of circular farming pen that uses a large water-pressurized bag that can be deployed at new or existing salmon farm sites.

Designed by a Norwegian aquaculture company, the semi-closed containment system Cermaq plans to deploy has a 120-metre circumference and a 24-metre deep pressurized polymer bag that is designed to withstand “predator attacks” and storms.

Water is pumped into the semi-closed containment system through four screened seawater intakes and exits through 12 deep-level screened ports.

The bag remains pressurized through continuous and positive water flow, which, according to Cermaq, “essentially” eliminates lateral contact between wild and farmed salmon. Organic waste, meanwhile, is dumped out through an exit area at the bottom of the bag.

“This system also allows for greater precision in farming by providing increased oversight of the environment inside the system by controlling water temperature, dissolved oxygen and preventing sea lice and algae from entering,” added Kiemele.

Cermaq Canada is a fully-owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation, farms salmon at more than 25 sites around Vancouver Island. They also operate four land-based hatcheries and have two processing plants, according to their website.

On Monday afternoon, representatives from the company provided an update of their plans to the City of Port Alberni councillors.

Brock Thompson, innovation director with Cermaq, told councillors that the semi-closed containment system is like a floating hatchery. He also said the pen is designed in such a way so that the water level inside the pen is actually higher than the water surrounding the bag.

“That provides positive pressure on the bag so it won’t deflect in the tide and it stays fairly tight, a little bit like a balloon,” he said.

The semi-closed containment system has demonstrated advantages such as customizable advanced technology which, according to Thompson, allows Cermaq to manage variables such as water temperature, oxygen and water levels, sea lice and algae.

“This gives us the ability to control the environment a lot more…by strategically managing the water intake,” he said.

Thompson said the system is also highly adaptable and would allow Cermaq to continue to operate in the communities it already operates in.

“It supports the operations where we operate as well as it supports traditional farming,” he said, later adding. “It’s a pretty exciting piece of equipment…we are fairly confident that it will be a great addition to support our operations on the West Coast.”

Trials in Norway demonstrated improved fish performance and improved animal welfare but Cermaq wants to know how successful it will be in Canadian waters before building more systems.

“We have had success elsewhere but we need to determine if we can replicate that success in B.C. waters. So, through the trial process, we are going to be looking at the overall benefits and really establishing a clearer picture,” Thompson said.

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Nicholas Pescod