February 12, 2020

Atlantic Sapphire/Contributed
Atlantic Sapphire expects to complete the first phase of its large-scale salmon farm by August.

Atlantic Sapphire/Contributed Atlantic Sapphire expects to complete the first phase of its large-scale salmon farm by August.

HOMESTEAD — Although an unlikely place to raise cold water Atlantic salmon, the agricultural community of South Dade will soon be home to one of the largest salmon aquafarms in the U.S.

With its first phase of a large-scale salmon farm slated to be completed this summer, Atlantic Sapphire hopes to tap into more than half of the U.S. market consumption of salmon.

The Norway-based company’s Homestead project is a long-term plan divided in different phases of construction to be complete by 2031.

Atlantic Sapphire/Contributed
Atlantic salmon is being added to the basket of cash crops grown in Homestead’s farmlands. Norway-based Atlantic Sapphire will have the capacity to produce 10,000 metric tons of salmon a year from egg to final product by August, with the ultimate goal of becoming the largest supplier of salmon to the United States by 2031. See story on page 13A

The first phase buildout of the 9-acre aquafarm building, being called the “Bluehouse,” will tentatively be finished by August, according to Lola Navarro, Atlantic Sapphire press and community engagement manager.

Once the first phase is completed, Atlantic Sapphire will have the capacity to produce 10,000 metric tons of salmon a year from egg to final product.

“After that, we will continue with the build-out of the following phases of our Bluehouse, which will allow us to gradually increase our capacity until reaching our target goal of 220,000 metric tons of Atlantic salmon a year by 2031,” Navarro said.

That would be more than half of the current annual U.S. consumption.

The U.S. market consumes about 400,000 tons of salmon a year, which isn’t very much per capita at about 2.2 pounds per person, according to salmonbusiness.com, but industry leaders are projecting salmon consumption to rapidly grow.

Since Atlantic salmon are anadromous, meaning they leave the ocean to return to freshwater streams and rivers to breed, Atlantic Sapphire must provide both environments.

The salmon tanks will draw 15.88 million gallons of water per day from the brackish Floridan aquifer, an amount that has been approved by state, federal and local governments.

“The South Florida Water Management District issued a consumptive use permit to Atlantic Sapphire to use 15.88 million gallons per day of water for their salmon farm,” said Randy Smith, the SFWMD spokesman.

The Floridan Aquifer will provide more than 95% of the water needed for the aquafarm. The rest will be fresh water pulled from the Biscayne aquifer. The Biscayne aquifer supplies the region with drinking water. The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority draws 16.5 million gallons a day for the Florida Keys.

Wastewater will be disposed of in a deep injection well thousands of feet below the surface that was permitted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“The application met the conditions for permit issuance and the permit withdrawals were evaluated against criteria for harm to the water resources, existing legal users, wetlands and the migration of pollution,” Smith said. “The use is saline water from the Floridan aquifer and current rules encourage the use of a lower quality water.”

Atlantic salmon grow much faster in saltwater than in freshwater. After two years at sea, adult salmon can grow to an average length of 28 to 30 inches and weight of eight to 12 pounds, according to NOAA. And, unlike the Pacific salmon species, Atlantic salmon do not die after spawning, so adults can repeat the breeding cycle during their lifespan of four to six years.

The water pumped from the Floridan aquifer is about 79 degrees and must be chilled to 57 degrees to provide ideal comfort to the salmon.

“Water is a precious resource that should be used responsibly. We recycle 99% of the water and less than 1% will be injected about 3,000 feet into the boulder zone,” Navarro said.

Homestead Mayor Steve Losner expects the historically agrarian South Dade city to benefit from Atlantic Sapphire’s presence.

“Fish farming is a natural evolution in food and plant production, and I’ve seen presentations by this company and it looks amazing. It’s like something out of a movie in terms of cutting-edge technology and security,” he said.

Atlantic Sapphire currently employs almost 100 people and expects to significantly increase that number with its projected year-over-year growth.

“We are pioneers in bringing the lifecycle of salmon to land,” Navarro said. “This will be the world’s largest salmon project and we are eliminating air freight. We will be distributing exclusively by land.”

The company will sell their product to wholesale retailers.

The federal agencies charged with regulating salmon farms are NOAA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Coast Guard.

For more information, visit atlanticsapphire.com.

tjava@keysnews.com