Vice President of Marel Fish Seattle: The future of salmon farming lies further offshore and not on land

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To say that the salmon farming industry has undergone changes in the past few years is an understatement. One person who has most likely seen it all is Alan Cook, Vice President of Marel Fish in Seattle. SalmonBusiness talked to the veteran fish farmer on his current workplace, disruptive technologies and why he isn’t convinced on land-based farms (yet).

It’s always refreshing to hear honest voices in any industry. And its sometimes it’s the most difficult questions that raise the most interesting answers, or at least ones that try address them. Armed with decades of high-level experience, Alan Cook has worked at Marine Harvest, Cooke Aquaculture and Icicle Seafoods, and he’s well suited to sharing thoughtful opinions on the industry.

– Where do you think the future of salmon farming will lie – land or sea?

Fish farmers nightmare
“I am particularly convinced the future lies in moving production further offshore not onto land. The results from the land-based production trials I have reviewed showed that mortality was high and growth was no better than in a net pen. I’ve visited several of them and the list of bankruptcies is a mile long. They are a fish farmers nightmare!”

Akva landbased production RAS: A fish farmers nightmare?

– And what about closed pens systems like the ones being touted in BC?

“My opinions about closed pen farming are similar to those about land-based – I think science supports that open-net pens have very limited/temporary impacts on the environment which can be managed through site fallowing etc. I think sea lice and other challenges will be addressed through genetic selection, vaccine development and improved handling systems. Current problems are completely solvable.”

The real disprupter?
Last week, SalmonBusiness talked to the founder of Finless Foods, Mike Selden about his start up (which has just raised USD 3.5 million in seed funding) that wants to grow lab grown “cellular’ meat – a futuristic product to sit alongside seafood.

– Do you see any big shifts when something like this hits the market?

Finless foods suspending fish cells in a bioreactor – Is the rise of cellular meat the next real disrupter? PHOTO Finless Foods

“I think lab grown meat is one to watch. I think people are quite disconnected from how their protein is produced but that we, as farmers, tend to react to something like lab grown meat through the filter of our passions for the industries we work in and are likely to dismiss the threat due to our inherent biases. I think enough consumers will accept lab grown meat to make it a competitive threat in the medium term.”

Changes ahead
Cook joined the Icelandic based multi-national food processing company in 2016 as Vice President of Fish supporting the 68 strong sales and finance who in turn support the seafood industry with tech such as the “FleXicut” which uses an x-ray system for bone detection. What will Marel be doing to embrace all of the changes ahead?

Alan Cook with the Marel team (4th from left) PHOTO: Marel

“Marel is supporting the ever increasing demand for seafood and salmon and strive to be a full service supplier of turn-key solutions for seafood companies. One of our key goals is to provide systems which offer the most advanced solutions for food safety, highest yields, worker safety and efficiency and to be a key supporter of these systems in the long term.”

– Finally, why and how did you get into fish farming?

“When I was fundraising at a university, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to live in a small town on the coast – small coastal towns are hard places to find work – in BC, where I was living at the time, the only real coastal employment options were forestry and fish farming. I chose fish farming and it has been an outstanding career for me professionally and a real adventure for my family as we have had the opportunity to live here in Seattle, on both coasts of Canada and in Chile.”