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Kuterra’s land-raised salmon can save the seas


About this story

  • Organization
    Kuterra LP
  • Location
    Alert Bay, BC
  • Location of impact
    British Columbia & Alberta
  • Area of impact
  • Type of investment
    Patient capital
Vancity was absolutely critical for us to be able to secure the balance of the financing. The fact that Vancity judged us on the full benefit of the investment is very significant for us. Garry Ullstrom, CEO of Kuterra

The very name overcomes a chasm. Ku comes from Kutala which means salmon in the 'Namgis language. Terra is Latin for earth. Salmon plus earth equals a potentially transformative innovation.

Many people agree that current salmon farming practices pose risks to the environment, says Garry Ullstrom, CEO of Kuterra. But while others are tackling the issue on an incremental basis, we're trying to re-envision the industry from the ground up.

There's no pun intended—Kuterra salmon have spent their entire lives on land.

Garry has a unique perspective on salmon farming, which is why he is so passionate about the Kuterra project. As a long-time member of the 'Namgis First Nation administration and resident of the North Island area, he has first-hand insight into how typical farming methods can negatively impact the health of wild salmon. This has in turn affected the traditional cultures and economies of coastal First Nations.

Most farmed salmon are grown in offshore open-nets, or cages, that jeopardize the marine environment. Pesticides and antibiotics can be released into the ocean, and parasites can be transmitted from farmed fish to wild salmon. Not surprisingly, this method has come under wide scrutiny.

The Kuterra project is changing all of this by raising fish on the land.

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Using a fully controlled environment using recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), Kuterra can completely eliminate risks to the marine environment. Antibiotics and pesticides are not needed. The waste is captured and can be utilized. No marine mammals or birds are culled. And there is no risk of transferring pathogens and parasites to BC's wild salmon.

Not to mention that Kuterra salmon taste fantastic.

But pioneers always expect significant challenges. What we were trying to do had never been attempted before with Atlantic salmon, says Garry. We knew we were going to run into major challenges.

We were dealing with many unknowns in terms of design: how big does the temperature system need to be? How much heat will the fish create? How do we move 8-kilogram fish around the facility? We were building the entire thing from scratch.

Although all funding for the project had been lined up through Tides Canada and Save Our Salmon Conservation Foundation, Garry and his team ran into cost overruns developing the technology. Halfway through the project, it looked like Kuterra might be dead in the water.

With enough salmon to sell to cover their overruns, the problem was a lack of funds to continue the process and bring the fish to market. But Garry encountered closed doors when he went looking for a much needed loan. This type of aquaculture project was viewed as inherently risky by much of the financial community, he says.

Stewart Anderson, manager of indigenous partnerships at Vancity, has a different perspective on risk.

The 'Namgis project had very strong partners, which helped us look beyond the financial risk. We were very excited about the potential return on this project, financially, socially, and environmentally, he says.

It was an infusion of patient capital—early money in and late money out—that allowed Kuterra to access other financing and live up to their commitment to existing funders.

Vancity was absolutely critical for us to be able to secure the balance of the financing. The fact that Vancity judged us on the full benefit of the investment is very significant for us,says Garry.

And the results are on the table. Kuterra salmon is now available at Safeway stores throughout BC and Alberta—the first land-raised salmon in the market.

This is a fantastic example of an economic development initiative that is led by a First Nation government in order to develop knowledge and capacity required for long term sustainability. The fact that the 'Namgis are eager to share their learnings with other First Nations will multiply the community impact of this project, says Stewart.

Garry hopes that the Kuterra project will catalyze a shift in how salmon are farmed as well as create new opportunities for Aboriginal communities. Salmon are at the heart of coastal First Nation culture, he says. It is a tremendous source of pride to be able to positively impact our communities and our land while also producing great tasting salmon for the wider market.


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