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Building Capacity of Land-Based Atlantic Salmon Aquaculture in the U.S.


Funded by: The National Sea Grant College Program


The United States currently faces a significant and growing seafood trade deficit ($16B in 2017) with nearly 90% of seafood consumed in the US originating from abroad and over 50% of these products coming from foreign aquaculture (NOAA, 2017). Furthermore, many importing countries do not possess regulatory frameworks that meet US standards. Given both the health benefits of quality seafood consumption and the growing domestic population demand for seafood products, US seafood production must expand to meet these demands while providing customers with safe, wholesome and sustainable products.

Atlantic Salmon in recirculating aquaculture system.jpg

Farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) continues to be a key product in the international seafood industry, and over the last decade, Atlantic salmon consumption in the US has significantly increased to a current level of 493,000 tons annually. To satisfy this increase, imports of Atlantic salmon to the United States have grown to a record of 473,000 tons in 2018, valued at $3.4 billion (US-DOC 2018). These staggering statistics mean that about 96% of Atlantic salmon consumed in this country is imported, which contributes over 20% to the $16 billion US trade deficit in edible seafood. Therefore, there is an urgent need and opportunity to promote domestic aquaculture development and increase Atlantic salmon production within the US.

ATS Tank Overview RAS.jpg


Currently, over 99% of Atlantic salmon are produced in ocean net-pens which have many environmental and regulatory challenges. Consequently, production costs in ocean pens have increased dramatically over the past 7 years while US consumption has nearly doubled. In addition, US production of Atlantic salmon in ocean pens continues to be threatened by regulation and loss of social acceptance. It is becoming increasingly evident that for Atlantic salmon aquaculture to expand in the US, other practices must be used. Subsequently, land-based production using recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) technology offers the industry a viable and sustainable means to expand domestic production.

RAS technology offers the ability to effectively capture wastes thus reducing environmental impact, enhance biosecurity to prevent fish escapement, minimize pathogen entry or dissemination into the surrounding environment, highly control the rearing environment for increased fish performance and increased flexibility in site selection for proximity to markets and/or low land/power rates (Summerfelt and Christianson, 2014; Davidson et al., 2016a; Liu et al., 2016; Timmons et al, 2018). For the first time, RAS is making it possible for Atlantic salmon to be local "farm to table" options on menus and store shelves that are far from the ocean sources. Farming fish local to the market reduces transportation costs, requires a smaller carbon footprint, improves traceability and product freshness, and supports the economy in local/regional communities.

Several states have witnessed a recent investment boom in land-based production of Atlantic salmon including Maryland, Maine, Florida, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Washington. With several more projects that are not yet publicized, the total US investment in land-based aquaculture can reach over $1 billion by 2020 and much more by 2030.



With this tremendous growth in land-based Atlantic salmon aquaculture, we have now reached a critical juncture where this emerging and rapidly expanding sector of the industry will require a strong and valuable support system. Through this project, a coordinated, national public-private network of experts will analyze the current status of RAS technology, address barriers to its development and provide a clear national plan to ensure success. This network is referred to as the Recirculating Aquaculture Salmon Network (RAS-N).

The overarching vision of this effort is to facilitate the growth of environmentally sustainable and economically feasible Atlantic salmon production in this country towards providing food security and reducing the current trade deficit associated with salmon imports.

 The overarching goal of this project is to build capacity and establish a holistic hub of knowledge that will integrate past, current and future research as well as outreach, education and extension to promote the successful growth, stability and economic feasibility of the Atlantic salmon RAS sector and, more broadly, US aquaculture.



RAS N Website.jpg The RAS-N Project Website

The main outcome of this national, public/private collaborative program will be the development of a consensus road map/strategic plan and demonstration projects that will help policymakers, federal agencies and industry identify and responsibly allocate resources to promote an economically feasible and environmentally sustainable land-based US Atlantic salmon industry. Specific outcomes as part of the roadmap also include:  

  • Gathering of stakeholder guidance, concerns, ideas and other input regarding industry needs, thoughts on extension, outreach approaches, optimal use of available federal/state funding, and other topics from each partnering region. Input will be gathered through annual workshops, meetings, conferences, surveys and personal communication. See Summary of RAS-N Land Based Salmon Stakeholder Priorities
RAS Workshop Photo.jpgUWSP NADF hosted the first conference to gather stakeholder guidance bringing in partners, coast to coast to Wisconsin
  • Develop a white paper, with input from all relevant stakeholders, that will; provide background on salmon production practices, describe the state of RAS technology, examine economic feasibility, assess the status of available technologies, future needs, gaps in knowledge, biological and technological bottlenecks and current R&D funding,  identify and propose a plan to implement approaches to address current topics of industry concern and discuss strategies for improving workforce development, topical education and public engagement.

  • Develop demonstration projects that provide the main concepts and innovations of sustainable RAS technologies/designs and utilize them for public outreach, hands on training opportunities, educational and technical workshops and internship training programs.

  • Implement targeted industry extension and technology transfer mechanisms that include information sharing tools, site visits, and technical assistance.



Sea Grant Collaborating Programs:

            Maryland Sea Grant 

  Maryland Sea Grant Extension

            Maine Sea Grant

            Maine Sea Grant Extension

            Wisconsin Sea Grant

Mid-Atlantic Region:

            University of Maryland Baltimore County

            Department of Marine Biotechnology

            Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology

            Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center

            The Conservation Fund's Freshwater Institute

            Patuxent Environmental and Aquatic Research Laboratory

            Morgan State University

Great Lakes Region: 

            University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility

Northeast Region:

            University of Maine Aquatic Research Institute & Coop. Extension

            USDA-National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center

Industry Partners:

            Superior Fresh, LLC.- Wisconsin

            Riverence, LLC.- Washington

            Whole Oceans, LLC.- Maine

            American Salmon- Maryland

            Kennebec River Biosciences- Maine



Top- Atlantic salmon recirculating aquaculture tank at UWSP NADF.

Bottom- Atlantic salmon recirculating aquaculture system for research at UWSP NADF.


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