“We have two main goals,” explains west coast salmon industry veteran Jason Mann. “We are looking to increase fish production and enable farmers across North America.”
Mann describes the North American trout and salmon industry as ‘flat lined.’ “The annual U.S. trout production is between 20-25,000 metric tonnes,” says Mann. That’s similar to U.S. salmon production he notes.
“But when you look at the amount of seafood that is imported, we can be a larger part of that market.” Aquaculture production is growing in other countries he points out, but not in the U.S.
With 29 years of experience in the industry, starting with salmon producer Cermaq in 1987 and culminating with his retirement from EWOS feeds, Mann is now director of fish nutrition at Evaqua Farms, Riverence’s sister production company that farms trout in Idaho’s Magic Valley.
Parent company Spring Salmon bought the Washington-based Aquaseed hatchery in 2014. They renamed it Riverence, and are just completing a major renovation that will see investments total in the millions. Key to the facility are four 40’x140 hatch houses, with concrete floors and stainless steel tanks.
Fresh Water Institute’s Dr. Steve Summerfelt has consulted on the construction. “This is a more traditional RAS hatchery,” says Mann. “It’s not too elaborate or over the top. Our strength is in the attention to detail.”
Quality over quantity
Being a high-volume producer is not the company’s objective Mann points out. “While major producers can look at 600 million eggs, a year, we will be much smaller than that, our capacity should be somewhere around 100 million when we are in full production and solely for the U.S. and Canadian markets.”
Current breeding objectives include increasing the percentage survival of eggs, and improving growth rates and resistance to disease. Mann says producers need consistent, premium eggs if they are to grow their business.
“Not enough energy has been put into this area,” Mann says. “When you look at livestock for instance, they are way ahead in using genetics and breeding.”
Premium eggs start with careful broodstock care Mann points out. “We feed premium broodstock diets a full year prior to spawning. Not everyone does that because it is expensive,” he says. “We want the egg yolks to be loaded with essential nutrients so that the first feed effectively is what we have fed the mother. The alvins will get a healthy start.”
“The level of Omega3s, the DHA and EPA are critical for proper egg development,” says Mann. “We work closely with local feed suppliers and custom specify diets for the various stages of growth.”
Careful egg handling right through to the end customer keeps the quality high. “We have temperature sensors in all of our egg shipping containers,” says Mann.
A new state-of-the-art egg picker uses machine vision to separate out the good red eggs, the suspected weak eggs (pin eyes) and the dead eggs, which are white. “We hear from our customers that when they open their deliveries they see red.”
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Special delivery packaging is just one of the customer service practices that Riverence is aiming to be noted for, explains Gabe Watkins, director of communications. “Our goal is to support an expansion in the industry,” says Watkins. “We can do that in a number of ways.”
It starts with listening to customers. “We want to improve certain traits important to farmers,” Mann points out. “Whether it is colour, flesh marbling fat, growth rates or disease resistance.”
Becoming its own customer helps, too. In January 2017, Spring Salmon purchased Idaho-based trout producer Seapac’s seven farms and inventory (the second largest trout producer in the U.S.) and renamed it Evaqua Farms.
“Now we are able to follow our product right from broodstock to the table,” notes Mann. “It really helps us understand how our eggs are performing in both RAS and raceway conditions.”
Riverence is also testing eggs in lake situations with a British Columbia producer and one in Saskatchewan. They also have some in Lake Titicaca, at over 12,000 feet of elevation, Mann points out. “It is known for having low oxygen events so it’s an ideal place to test our stock for low oxygen tolerance.”
Research is an ongoing part of the program both in-house and with the University of Idaho, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and University of Victoria. “We make all of our knowledge open source so that we can share data,” Watkins points out. “Producers in other industries support each other by sharing knowledge and expertise, they don’t compete with each other.”
Mann is just one of the industry veterans on the Riverence team. “Supporting the customer with fish nutritional expertise, fish health, water chemistry, we offer all of that along with the egg supply,” says Watkins.
“We think data transfer back and forth with farmers will be very important in helping make their particular species do well in their local conditions,” adds Mann. “It’s a partnership approach, we want to see success. U.S. production will increase if we have a premium product that is growing well. That will support expansion.”
One-stop shop for salmonids
Riverence has a focus on North American indigenous species that perform in fresh water, Jason Mann explains. They produce trout, coho and Atlantic salmon eggs, with significant pedigrees.
The trout are Donaldson steelhead, a product of University of Washington professor Dr. Lauren Donaldson’s breeding program that began over 60 years ago. Riverence is broadening the trout line by introducing some native Idaho stock. “Idaho waters produce approximately 70% of the trout in the US,” Mann notes.
“We wanted to add some strains that are indigenous to that water.”
The coho are the Washington-based Domsea strain, named after one of the earliest salmon farms in the U.S. The company began working with coho in 1969, and developed the Domsea line starting in 1977. Riverence acquired the Domsea line when they purchased the Rochester, Washington-based company Aquaseed.
The Atlantics are the Cascade strain, originally from Quebec’s Gaspe region and brought to the west coast and used by the National Marine Fisheries Service and private sector farms. These Atlantics have been developed for freshwater performance, having spent time at the Fresh Water Institute, but like all of Riverence’s stock, are salt-water-proven as well.
To meet growing interest, the company is developing a Golden trout line, (again based on North American stock) which is currently being held at the research station in Idaho. Photo period manipulation will support multiple delivery dates through the year and feminization and triploiding will be part of their egg programs.
Teaming up for continuity
Riverence announced an affiliation with the Danish company Troutex in September, 2017.
“They are a family-run company. We found that they shared our values,” says Riverence director of communications Gabe Watkins. “They have excellent genetics and excellent practices. They are very good at raising trout eggs. We found a lot of continuity with what we are doing.”
Diversification is really important for the industry, Watkins points out. “We want to be sure that in the event of any problems, the industry doesn’t experience a slow down.”
Troutex produces eggs in multiple locations, Watkins adds. “So the idea of having a backstop to support American producers in case there is an issue, is very important as a long-term strategy.