Building capacity of land-based Atlantic salmon aquaculture in the US

Principal Investigator:

Yoni Zohar

Start/End Year:

2019 - 2022


Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology University of Maryland Baltimore County

Co-Principal Investigator:

Fredrika Moser, Maryland Sea Grant; James Hurley, Wisconsin Sea Grant; Gayle Zydlewski, Maine Sea Grant


Strategic focus area:

Sustainable fisheries and aquaculture


The recent exponential growth in established or planned US closed-containment Atlantic salmon production has been associated with over $1B investment into this aquaculture sector. The success of this dramatic expansion/investment in land-based, RAS salmon production requires a national, coordinated and interdisciplinary effort to ensure that current barriers are eliminated and efficiency and cost-effectiveness are attained. While major progress has been achieved in recent years in RAS technology, its scaling up may face biological, engineering, technological, economical and societal constraints that should be addressed via a fully integrated research, extension, outreach, education and workforce development network. This network will provide broad support, as well as guide future federal investment toward responsibly building the Atlantic salmon aquaculture industry in the US. This proposal recognizes that we are at an important juncture requiring a solid and effective support base for the development of sustainable land-based RAS salmon producers. To provide this support base, we propose to establish a National Coordinated RAS Network (NCRN) focused on Atlantic salmon RAS aquaculture that will provide crucial support and a capacity-building framework to address current issues/pitfalls and promote success in US salmon RAS production.

To ensure the success of the recent dramatic expansion/investment in land-based salmon production, we propose to establish a coordinated national effort that will review and identify challenges and bottlenecks, and develop a road map and comprehensive strategic plan to address and overcome them. The Maryland, Wisconsin and Maine Sea Grant programs will spearhead the integration of the academic and industrial collaborators into a National Coordinated RAS Network (NCRN) that will support US salmon Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS).

Our program will be guided by the following specific aims:

  1. Solicit early stakeholder input regarding technology background and industry status to identify gaps, constraints and research needs.
  2. Develop a coherent plan for national research efforts to address identified constraints and industry needs.
  3. Determine economic feasibility of Atlantic salmon production in RAS.
  4. Undertake public outreach and education efforts.
  5. Implement targeted industry extension and technology transfer mechanisms that include information sharing tools, site visits, and technical assistance.
  6. Develop demonstration projects that provide the main concepts and innovations of sustainable RAS technologies/designs and utilize them for hands on training opportunities, educational and technical workshops and internship training programs.


Title: Fish Out of Water: Growing U.S. Production of Land-Based Atlantic Salmon Aquaculture

Recap: Maryland Sea Grant with a consortium of collaborators are developing a ‘roadmap’ to advance domestic, land-based Atlantic salmon production through recirculating aquaculture systems in the United States to help reduce pressure facing wild salmon stocks.

Relevance: About 90 percent of American seafood is imported, but only about half of it is farmed. Researchers estimate that by 2050 twice the current supply will be needed, and depleted wild stocks cannot fill the demand. Every year, Americans consume 500,000 tons of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), 95 percent of it imported, with a value of $3.4 billion. Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) can sustainably and safely grow salmon on land. The systems clean and re-use water (up to 99 percent recycled); control the environment to optimize fish growth and health; repurpose waste as fertilizer, and feed fish with sustainably sourced foods. In doing so, RAS can enable domestic salmon production to support local economies and reduce dependence on imported and wild fish. The RAS domestic industry's carbon footprint would be half that of imports, and land-based salmon could not escape into the wild population—a problem in sea-based farming. As of 2020, foreign and domestic interests invested or committed more than $1 billion to advance domestic salmon RAS production. However, barriers to expansion remain challenging.

Response: Maryland Sea Grant (MDSG), along with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, are leading partners in a $1.2 million, multi-state NOAA grant to study how to optimally grow Atlantic salmon using RAS and build the domestic industry. Collectively known as RAS-N (Recirculating Aquaculture Salmon Network), this consortium includes scientists, economists, biologists, and engineers collaborating to advance RAS Atlantic salmon production. They are also educating the public and supporting workforce, career, and business development. Despite COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, MDSG staff attended or led virtual meetings with RAS-N collaborators addressing career and workforce development, education, communications, and research. The MDSG Extension specialist hired through the NOAA grant is facilitating the RAS-N work group efforts.

Result: MDSG’s Assistant Director for Communications and the Extension specialist developed content and layout for the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant’s RAS-N website, which launched in 2020. MDSG’s Assistant Director for Education worked with counterparts in Maine and Wisconsin to identify best practices in formal and non-formal education and workforce development. These results will be aggregated into a broader ‘roadmap’ paper. Through workshop feedback, the Extension specialist developed a survey sent to stakeholders in spring 2021 to help prioritize needs as well as identify top barriers to salmon RAS development. The Extension specialist also published an article in Aquaculture Magazine, Vol. 47, No. 1 (March 2021) about the RAS-N project, workshops, and launching the RAS-N website.

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