Patagonia King Salmon founder: “A superior fish demands a premium price”

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“When you start with wild salmon, its quite a journey you take.”

After four years of scientific research and testing, Patagonia King Salmon, created by holding company Sealand Advanced Aquaculture, is harvesting its first fish. Here, Patagonia King Salmon founder Hans den Bieman, a former Mowi chief executive, talks to SalmonBusiness about his new venture.

When den Bieman decided to try and produce king salmon, it was to fish already adapted to Chilean waters that he and his business partner, Oscar Garate, turned: “We got our first broodstock in 2019. When you start with wild salmon, its quite a journey you take, because this fish is not domesticated. We have had to develop the feed and everything else.”

Sealand Aquaculture Directors Oscar Garate and Hans den Bieman, former CEO of Marine Harvest, now Mowi. Photo: Sealand Aquaculture

Read more: Former Marine Harvest director behind first ever land-farmed king salmon

King salmon have been in Chilean waters as far back as the 1870s. Farming king salmon has been something of a holy grail to for the aquaculture industry. But the fish are notoriously sensitive. Only in New Zealand and Patagonia have populations of the fish successfully embedded outside of their native range on the northern Pacific rim.

To date the most successful attempt to farm these fish has been in New Zealand with the Ora King brand. This is acheived, however, with pen densities so low and at water depths that mean it bears very little resemblance to salmon farming as commonly practiced.

Facts

King salmon (Oncorhynchus tschawytscha), native to the north west coast of North America and North East Asia, are the largest of the Pacific salmon. With some growing to be over 100lbs, this type of salmon spends its entire adult life building up their muscle and fat content to make the 2,000-mile journey upriver to spawn. Of all the salmon species, King salmon are the most challenging to farm. The species is picky in regards to what it eats, has a hard time feeding and can face challenges in reproduction. The fish are delicate and can be difficult to handle without causing damage.

A delicate fish
“Historically, I think the main problem with the production of king salmon in cages is that it is such a delicate fish and more susceptible to certain diseases,” den Bieman confirmed to SalmonBusiness.

For den Bieman’s new company, the answer to this problem seemed natural, as he explained, “With a land based system, you can control the water coming in, you can control the water going out, you clean it etc. You can control the temperature, you can control basically the environment. So we know the water is disease free and that our fish are well protected, we give them optimal temperatures. We make sure that there is enough oxygen, we take the carbon dioxide out etc. The living environment is excellent. And they are not exposed to all kinds of pathogens. So it is easier to hold them.”

Photo: Patagonia King Salmon

Premium price
Wild king salmon often retail at prices 2-3 times higher than other wild pacific salmon at US$70-100 per kilo. While The retail price for farmed New Zealand Ora Kings is usually upwards of US$60 per kilo. The cost is at least twice the price of commodity Atlantic farmed salmon.

Asked if he thinks he will be able to achieve the same kind of premium price, den Bieman said, “I would assume yes. Because I think our fish is of the same quality maybe even better. And we are producing in a very sustainable way. We adhere to all the criteria of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and are producing according to their standards.”

“I think king salmon is clearly a superior fish and demands a premium price. What the price exactly will be I don’t know.” He continued, “I think it is a fish for which there is a lot of demand. We’re not only looking at the USA, we are in contact with with buyers in Europe, in Asia, and also in Latin America.”

New Zealand Ora King is the benchmark for farmed king salmon

“We have been working in very close cooperation with Japanese chefs, who are checking the quality of our fish and they they are very pleased with what they have seen so far.”

Wild fish
“I would say that the disadvantage of working with king salmon is that the fish are not that well domesticated – it is not domesticated at all! So they behave differently from the salmon we have seen previously. But we will keep certain fish for reproduction and then step by step I think they will get accustomed to the system we produce them in.”

“If you just look at the Atlantic salmon farmers, they’re still improving the production methods and they have already been doing that for more than forty years. We are just forty years behind,” he concluded with a laugh.