Atlantic Sapphire rages against the press after questions about sea temperatures in its Florida facilities: “Fake news”

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But boss Johan Andreassen admits that the pioneering company has challenges with growth, biomass development and animal health.

In an email, reproduced on Twitter, Andreassen went on a full attack on SalmonBusiness related to the publication’s questions about its tank temperature at its large land-based salmon farm outside Miami.

“Fake news media base themselves of rumours,” he raged.

On Wednesday, it was announced that the company had to do a n emergency harvest on 200,000 fish– with an average weight of two kilograms. There was insufficient harvest capacity to process all the fish, so close to two-thirds of the fish, equivalent to 13-14 fully loaded trucks, had to be destroyed.

Not public
Andreassen would not comment at all on what sea temperatures the salmon were swimming inside the plant in tropical Florida.

“We do not publicly state what temperatures we are putting the fish at and other details of our production form. We are a publicly-traded company and have a clear policy that everyone should have the same information at all times,” he said.

Then he added, “It is possible that the “congregation” that reads iLaks (SalmonBusiness’ sister publication in Norwegian ed.) likes to read tabloid and speculative articles about us, but that certainly makes me have no interest in putting you high on the list of credible industry media sources.”

Why don’t you reveal sea temperature? How big has this problem been for the fish’s growth performance?

“We would have told you about the sea temperature if there was a factor, which was not,” he said.

Delays
Last spring, Atlantic Sapphire guided its first commercial harvest in April 2020. These plans have been pushed on, for several rounds, due to slow growth.

“The fish that were destroyed were only two kilos – are you on track to harvest in Q3?

“We have communicated to the market on several occasions that delays in construction work have been a major challenge and that we have adopted RAS systems that are not 100 per cent completed to give the fish more space. This carries a higher risk than in stable production conditions as we have tag lists on remediation that must be made after fish have been inserted into the systems. We have also held back on feeding for periods to hold the fish back so that we can build enough capacity to move it. The result of this is higher risk and delays in biomass development. We have a lot to go on in terms of growth that we will see the result of when we have the opportunity to produce under normal conditions,” he said.

“The fish that were taken out, were on average two kilos, but there were different fish sizes in the different tanks, including harvest-ready fish of four kilos,” he noted.

“We still have fish in other systems that are harvestable, and we still plan to do during Q3 which means we harvest fish after about 21 months ago hatching despite sub-optimal conditions,” said Andreassen.

Heavy losses
The company, which has long been highly visible in the media, is now warning a more restrictive line on transparency.

“We have spent ten years paying huge to get where we are today and therefore we do not want to publish everything in the media,” he explained.

During this period, Atlantic Sapphires has been operating land-based salmon farms in Hvide Sande in Denmark. The company has struggled heavily and never made any money. Last year, Atlantic Sapphire Denmark posted a pre-tax loss of EUR 6.2 million.

It’s unlikely to get much better this year, after 227,000 fish this spring died of high levels of nitrogen in their production tanks.

If problems with the building work are a problem for the fish in Florida; how are you going to handle 11 years of construction work going forward?

“We are not going to put ourselves in a situation in the future where we have so little buffer between construction and production, it is too risky given lessons from phase 1. We are working on concepts that are faster to build and have the facilities as completed as possible before putting salmon into them,” he said.

Failed
Among those who have responded to Atlantic Sapphire’s salmon farming operations is the Norwegian Food Safety Authority’s Special Inspector Aud Skrudland. “The fish that are put into unfinished facilities must pay the price,” she wrote on Twitter.

Do you compromise on animal health?

‘It’s clear that when things happen the way it did this week in Miami, it’s not good for animal health. We as salmon farmers failed the fish because we were unable to provide them with ideal production conditions. Unlike in the sea, where cold ocean currents provide water replacement, our fish is entirely dependent on us creating a micro-environment that is ideal for them. When we can’t do it, as in this situation, it goes beyond animal health.”

“However, I would like to clarify that under normal production conditions, the mortality rate in our systems is significantly lower than in the sea since we do not have parasites and disease, among other things. Particles and gases are the most important factors in a closed plant,” he explained.

Atlantic Sapphire in Denmark, by the way, has not been spared from disease. The facility has also struggled with bacteria via the water supply in Hvide Sande, in 2015.