“Harmoniously Raised” Verlasso Salmon (March 2012)

Neither wild nor traditionally farmed’

Verlasso’s “harmoniously raised” salmon expands its reach in the U.S. marketplace

Posted on March 24, 2012 by Bertrand Charron, SeafoodIntelligence.com Editor

Verlasso, an innovative partnership between Santiago-listed AquaChile (one of the largest Chilean salmon farmers) and Dupont, has today announced two new distribution deals with Washougal, Wash.-based Foods In Season and Santa Rosa, Calif.-based North Coast Fisheries, Inc., a subsidiary of Tony’s Fine Foods. The firm has reached one of the aquaculture industry’s key ‘holy grail’ sustainability targets: producing 1kg of salmon (a carnivorous fish), using less than 1kg of fish (necessary in the feed’s fish oil and fishmeal content). To be exact, the Verlasso salmon has a Fish Feed Dependency Ratio (FFDR – measure to be used in the forthcoming Aquaculture Stewardship Council [ASC] certification) rate of 0.8 for fish oil & 0.9 for fishmeal [for reference, to be eligible for the demanding ASC certification one will have to reach an FFDR<1.35 for fishmeal & <2.95 for fish oil].

SeafoodIntelligence spoke to Scott Nichols who was instrumental in establishing Verlasso – launched in July 2011 – since 2007. It all started with Dupont R&D developing Omega3-producing yeasts. “The original business target was to provide EPA,” says Nichols. Now, this scientific breakthrough (55+ patents are involved) is being used to farm salmon. The result? A “harmoniously raised” fish with a truly unique taste (described as “clean”) with a 12% fat content somewhere between wild Pacific salmon (~8%) and traditionally farmed Atlantic salmon (~18-20%). Verlasso will also be one of a handful of aquaculture operations world-wide (& the only salmon farmer) to take part in a 2012 pilot assessment by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. Mr Nichols says Verlasso will later move to farming steelhead and Coho salmon, then to tilapia. They will expand production in response to market demands. “This includes up to the complete conversion of all of AquaChile’s salmon to Verlasso salmon”…

See the full text of the Verlasso announcement below the interview…

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The SeafoodIntelligence Interview

Since 2007, the Verlasso founders wanted to farm salmon sustainably, but also “differently”. “We were very feed-focused at the beginning,” says Mr Nichols who at that time went to WWF, Pew Environment (and the ‘ Pure Salmon’ Campaign), the Freshwater Institute and others such as (now) Nofima in Norway, to try tounderstand what were the main sustainability issues about salmon farming from an environmental/NGO and scientific perspective. “We asked them: ‘What is it that we can do to be the best salmon farmers that we could be?’,” he recalls…

SeafoodIntelligence: What is the ‘history’ of Verlasso, and what do you want to achieve? You state that “Verlasso is transforming the aquaculture industry by bringing a new category of farmed salmon to the marketplace that targets consumers who care about how their food is raised and where it comes from.”…

Scott Nichols: Verlasso was founded with the intent to raise salmon with practices that ensure salmon will continue to be available to us not just in the immediate future of a few decades, but for generations and generations to come. One of the biggest challenges to this is the pressure salmon aquaculture puts on pelagic fisheries. Our response to this has been to decrease our dependency on wild caught fish by 75%.

Whether farmed or wild, salmon get their omega-3s from their diets. The source of omega-3s for farmed salmon is fish oil rendered from wild pelagic fish such as jack mackerel, herring, anchoveta and others. Currently it takes roughly 4 kg of wild caught fish to provide the fish oil necessary to raise a kg of salmon which is as you noted the fish in/fish out ratio. By replacing fish oil with omega-3s made by yeast, we have lowered the 4 in/1 out ratio down to 1 in/1 out.

A second important challenge is to retain biodiversity and preserve the ecosystems in the areas where we farm. Reducing the number of fish in a given area benefits both of these. Our farms have pen densities no greater than 12 kg/m3. This is significantly lower than the norm. Additionally our farm sites remain fallow for three months after harvest helping retain ecosystem balance. [NB: See also on that topic: http://www.verlasso.com/conversation/article/pen-density-room-is-improvement/].

A further benefit of farming at lower densities is a commitment to the health of the salmon as well as the environment. This, I believe, speaks to another of your questions about the taste of Verlasso salmon. Lower pen densities mean more room to swim with the result that Verlasso salmon have improved taste and texture. Another result is that our fish have a lower fat content than traditionally farmed salmon which contain ~18-20% fat. Verlasso fish are ~11-13% fat and, by comparison, wild fish are ~ 8% fat.

Of Taste… and what about the fish? and What is the feedback from customers?

“The fish do taste different” […] “It does have a different flavor profile, different organoleptic properties, from other traditionally-farmed salmon. It feels a lot more like a wild fish…”

“The ‘mouth’ feels like a king rather than a coho or a sockeye. The word that people use when they describe it is that ‘it has a clean taste’. The Verlasso salmon has 12% fat instead of 18 or 20% fat (and around 8% for a wild salmon), which can be a drawback for some who have come to expect a higher fat content, concedes Mr Nichols. “It does require a bit more attentiveness when you’re in the kitchen, in that… you really have to pay attention and to cook it the right amount.

“While we have not done independent gustative comparisons, we have received very favorable reception from chefs. Some chefs’ comments on the difference of taste between Verlasso and traditionally farmed salmon are captured in an article at the CNN Eatocracy web site [http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2012/02/23/chefs-with-issues-making-seafood-sustainability-palatable/?hpt=hp_bn8].

“We try to talk with people as much as we can. We’re brand-new and young… We actually go to the markets and ask people… We’ve done a lot of tasting events… Another thing we’re doing. We’re for instance working with Samuel & Sons – they have their own chef – and we’re meeting with other chefs to get feedback and understanding.”

“We have altered our feed composition and the ways we were feeding the fish based on feedback that we got. We want to be able to narrow-in and be able to be precise about the 12% fat.

“We’re doing a number of feeding trials right now, with a different types of feeds to see just what exactly what it is that will get us there, reproducibly, so that we know that when people buy Verlasso fish for a particular taste, they’re going to get it.”

Neither wild nor traditionally farmed… 12% is almost halfway between the 8% and 18-20%, so that you position yourself entirely in a different niche…

“Verlasso’s progressive farming practices provide for the ongoing availability of salmon. The sum of all these practices is what we call ‘Harmonious Aquaculture’. The benefit to salmon consumers is that these practices result in a delicious and premium fish. It is all of these things together that customers recognize and value and not just the FFDR as a standalone attribute.

Part of it, harmoniously raising fish.. is from the feed, and part is environmental. Our fish density never gets above 12 kg/cubic meter [NB: 11.4kg/m3 in current cages]. We’re pretty adamant about that. We are very attentive to that… they can swim better, they have much bigger tails and also the dorsal fin is longer. The body architecture of the fish is different.”

What about the business side of things?

We spent a lot of time working on relationships with distributors. One of the things that we found is that it’s really difficult for us to get out and get into the restaurant community very well. The reason for that is quite simple: there are hundreds of restaurants in Philadelphia alone… and a great many of them would fit the profile of the type of restaurants which would want to have the combination of sustainability and premium fish that we have. And so, that was one of the things that led us to Samuels & Sons.

[See below statement re. two new distribition deals announced today/May 24 2012 with Washougal, Wash.-based Foods In Season and Santa Rosa, Calif.-based North Coast Fisheries, Inc., a subsidiary of Tony’s Fine Foods.]

At the end of May/beginning of June, we will have one more. At that point, I think we will have the ability to reach a great amount of the country and this will give us [nationwide] access to customers and markets.

[…] Foods & Seasons are based in Las Vegas. People go there for destination dining. We were flabbergasted to learn of how much salmon is consumed in Las Vegas. People make their hotel choice based a lot on food.

Verlasso is rather keen on keeping its production figures confidential for the time being, it seems…

“We’re waiting for marketplace signals that will tell us that it is time to do that [increase production capacity considerably…] Our initial aspiration is that we want to convert as much of AquaChile’s production to Verlasso salmon”

Is it feasible to conceive that you could produce tens of thousands of tonnes of Verlasso salmon within 3-5 years should the marketplace respond/ place orders to that effect? Would AquaChile also be willing to convert all its salmon production to Verlasso salmon?

Verlasso’s sustainability and business goals are congruent. If we are to make a significant contribution to the reduction of pressure on wild fisheries, we must be bigger than a niche product. We are actively working with many regional distributors and retailers throughout the U.S. to increase our sales. We have both the ability and willingness to expand our production in response to market demands. This includes up to the complete conversion of all of AquaChile’s salmon to Verlasso salmon.

We have plans in place to increase production of the Omega-3 producing yeast. Those plans provide us the capacity to meet the market place demands we might encounter. We wish to improve continuously in all aspects of how we raise our salmon and improvement of Omega-3 production is the focus of ongoing development work.

Our cage 103 was first harvested starting September, 2011. We are poised to increase our production and will do so in response to market place demand.

We’re harvesting now from our second farm. We had two cages at the first farm, we have two cages at the second… and to reach our sustainability goals, we have to increase the size of what we’re doing. That’s exactly what we want, that’s our intention. I hope that in time we’ll be able to become far bigger.”

There are certain times when we’ll be able to obtain certain economies of scale, as we get bigger, and that will allow us to position ourselves differently. […] You have to be patient, but we wouldn’t have done this in the first place if we weren’t overtly patient people. There is a bit of a cognitive dissonance there! [laugh]”

Selling the Verlasso success story to big retailers, things could go quicker.. speaking of economies of scale…

Yes, we have multiple discussions throughout the country [the USA] with distributors, as well as retailers, and one big retailer taking us on would be substantial for us. We hope that in time this is going to happen. People are understandably conservative […] We continue to expand our business both with current partners and also by adding new partners.

The response to Verlasso salmon is to the compendium of our aquacultural practices and the excellent taste. Retailers need a salmon that stands apart based on both taste an sustainability. Verlasso fills this need and creates a premium product in doing so. It is a mark of distinction for the seafood counters where it is carried.

One thing we are doing which we hope will make a difference for people is that when the ASC [Aquaculture Stewardship Council] certification is available, we’ll do everything we can to get certified as quickly as we can. That’s certainly in our sight. We’ve been committed to that from the very beginning [re. being involved in the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue].

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council provides the single best program for certifying best practices and driving aquaculture in directions that Verlasso completely supports. I believe that the ASC aspiration is to be ready to certify salmon farms late this year. Until the ASC is up and running with its certification, we will continue to certify our pens through DNV.

The other thing which we’re doing right now is being part of a pilot program with the Monterey Bay Aquarium [MBA]’s Seafood Watch. […] We are participating as one of six projects [NB: Verlasso being the only salmon project] where we will get an independent assessment of our operations, practices and farms against the MBA criteria. Then, that independent assessor will present a report to the MBA which if it leads to us being a yellow or a green category/rating, would be a tremendous thing for us.

Did you approach the MBA, or did they approach you?

I approached them a couple of years ago with the question: “For those of us who are trying to do our very best to advance our practices and sincerely make them better, what can we do with you?” At the time, they said ‘there is not much right now but hang on’.I just kept in contact and when Tom [Dr Tom Pickerell, the MBA/Seafood Watch’s Senior Science Manager] came, I met him very early on, we tried to keep in touch [NB: and a MBA scientist visited the Verlasso farm after a recent Global GAP meeting].

We are extremely happy to have been chosen for the pilot assessment program they have created. We have just now begun the Seafood Watch assessment which will cover all the criteria that MBA employs throughout its other analyses. We expect to conclude in the fall, however, as this is a new program we are not certain exactly when we will finish.

NB Ed: Comments made by MBA Seafood Watch’s Dr Tom Pickerell in an earlier SeafoodIntelligence.com (March 21st 2012) article:

We have made reassessment of farmed salmon a priority in 2012 priority, incorporating our new criteria.” […] “we are carrying out a benchmarking exercise of sustainable seafood eco-certification schemes. Essentially, if an existing eco-certification scheme (including those that assess salmon farming approaches) is demonstrated to be credible & equivalent to a minimum of a “Good Alternative” or yellow ranking, we will consider deferring to it and will tell consumers/buyers to “buy” seafood certified by that scheme.”

Read more: Editorial : SEAFOOD WATCH will soon assess specifically hatchery-augmented salmon fisheries & farmed salmon (21.03.2012).

Beyond feed sustainability, fish density <12kg/m3 and no prophylactic antibiotics, do you have heightened anti-escape measures in place?

To provide the greatest protection against escapes, our pens have a double net system. This also ensures that possible predators are kept at a greater distance thus providing a better environment for the salmon. Regarding escapes, Verlasso has never had any. We use a double net system to guard against that possibility.

Aquaculture is expanding to meet a rapidly growing desire for healthy seafood. As we expand, there is urgency in moving aquacultural practices to be sustainable for the very long term. Meaningful and understandable aquaculture sustainability standards transparently measured serve two very important goals. Firstly they provide producers with a road map to how they can improve their practices. Secondly, they provide retailers, consumers and chefs with the assurance they are purchasing seafood produced in the best possible ways.

The recently concluded WWF Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue created a road map to sustainable production of salmon. The Aquaculture Stewardship Council will soon begin certifying producers against the metrics established in the dialogue. Verlasso wholeheartedly supports the efforts of the ASC and we will certify ourselves against their standards as soon as the ASC begins its certifications.

Have you been approached by other salmon farmers (besides AquaChile), in other countries? Would you be open to producing Verlasso salmon in other regions closer to other potential markets (eg. Europe)? By extension: are you also talking to retailers & distributors outside of the US?

For the present we are devoting all our efforts to raising Atlantic salmon for the U.S. market. In time we will want to expand beyond the U.S.

You mentioned [re. earlier discussion] wanting in future to farm other fish species… Have you trialed any yet? Which ones could you have in mind? Are you currently in discussion with other aquaculture firms (or want to be) re. other species?.

Our present market focus is Atlantic salmon. Our first species for expansion will be steelhead and Coho. As we move beyond salmonids, we believe our first species will be tilapia.

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Read also, previously on SeafoodIntelligence.com:

HOT News: DUPONT & AquaChile partnership; Yeast-based salmon feed breakthrough; US market testing(19.07.2011).

DuPont and Santiago-listed AquaChile (one of the world’s top salmon farming firms) revealed Tuesday (July 19th) a partnership (initiated in 2007) joining “the collective innovation and aquaculture expertise of the two companies to sustainably raise fish and provide nutritious protein for a growing population.” One such innovation is an Omega 3-rich yeast, developed by DuPont after more than 7 years of R&D, designed to replace the fish oil in the salmon feed; thus greatly reducing the need for wild-capture fish ingredients in fish feed (one of the top sustainability concerns re. carnivorous fish/salmon farming). Currently, about 4 kg of fish are used to produce the fish oil needed to raise 1kg of farmed salmon. The new diet requires only 1 kg of wild fish per kg of farmed salmon – i.e. 75% fewer fish – while maintaining the levels of Omega-3s required for the salmon to be healthy and nutritious. The first salmon fed & raised with this new diet from AquaChile’s Patagonia farms will be introduced to limited customers through market testing in the USA this coming September. “DuPont is committed to the evolution of aquaculture. We believe our biotechnology capabilities can accelerate the transformation of this market with more environmentally friendly solutions,” said DuPont BioMaterials Vice President John P. Ranieri. “Our partnership with AquaChile has created innovations that set new standards for the sustainable farming of salmon and we are committed to finding new solutions that will revolutionize the industry itself.” AquaChile CEO Alfonso Marquez de la Plata added: “Our business model is about continuously working to improve our farming methods, therefore raising the healthiest salmon possible while lessening our impact on the ocean’s resources […] We strive to raise this new generation of salmon in a way that offers our customers a more consciously farmed fish that will meet their highest standards of taste and quality.” More details

About the Verlasso GM Yeast:

http://www.verlasso.com/farming/fish-in-fish-out/about-our-yeast#showContent

PS: On Twitter @Salmoskius (24.05.2012):
  • ‘Neither wild nor traditionally farmed’: Verlasso’s “harmoniously raised” #salmon expands US reachhttp://is.gd/VerlassoSalmon #aquaculture
  • “Harmoniously raised” @VerlassoSalmon one of few worldwide to undergo  @SeafoodWatch 2012 pilot assessmenthttp://is.gd/VerlassoSalmon #aquaculture
  • Verlasso will later apply its concept & feed to raising steelhead & Coho salmon, + also move to tilapiahttp://is.gd/VerlassoSalmon
  • “complete conversion of all of AquaChile’s #salmon” to @VerlassoSalmon would indeed transform #aquaculture industry & market! http://is.gd/vRZKs5

And also:

Clare Leschin-Hoar?@c_leschin: By using an omega-3 producing #GM yeast, @VerlassoSalmon reached an#aquaculture holy grail. http://bit.ly/KjwvAT by @Salmoskius

Marine HarvestCanada?@MHCanada@Salmoskius What defines ‘taking part in pilot assessment’, as MHC has also provided comprehensive data to @seafoodwatch

Bertrand Charron?@Salmoskius@MHCanada Maybe still ‘hush hush’? Best ask @seafoodwatch directly. See also DrPickerell’s comment re. 2012 assessment http://is.gd/SWeditoSalmon

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Verlasso March 24 2012 announcement (un-edited) below:

Verlasso™ Continues Steady Growth with New Seafood Distribution Partners North Coast Fisheries, Inc. and Foods In Season

 Market Expansion to Western States Offers Greater Availability of Verlasso Harmoniously Raised Salmon

MIAMI, May 24, 2012 –Verlasso™, the world’s first provider of harmoniously raised fish, continues to expand its market presence through distribution deals with Washougal, Wash.-based Foods In Season and Santa Rosa, Calif.-based North Coast Fisheries, Inc., a subsidiary of Tony’s Fine Foods.

With these partnerships, Verlasso salmon will now be readily available to more conscious-cuisine consumers through retailers, restaurants and other purveyors in the West, including Las Vegas and throughout Northern California.

Verlasso continues to transform the aquaculture industry with its new category of farmed salmon for consumers who care about how their food is raised and where it comes from. Neither wild nor traditionally farmed, Verlasso’s innovative, harmoniously raised approach to farming produces a high-quality, great-tasting salmon that promotes a strong balance between consumers’ health and nutritional needs and the needs of the environment.

“Our new partnership with North Coast Fisheries, Inc., will help us bring Verlasso to Northern California seafood distributor retailers and restaurants whose customers demand high-quality salmon that is both healthy and sustainable,” said Scott Nichols, director of Verlasso. “Together with Foods In Season, we will reach high-end restaurant customers that share our philosophy of environmental responsibility and food raised with a deep respect for the Earth. We value these relationships, and look forward to working with each to bring harmoniously raised Verlasso salmon to their customers.”

Verlasso’s most significant innovation is its use of 75 percent fewer feeder fish to produce healthy salmon rich in Omega-3s. In traditional salmon farms, salmon get their Omega-3s from fish oils provided by wild-caught feeder fish, which puts a significant strain on our oceans. Typically it takes 4 or more pounds of feeder fish to raise one pound of salmon—what’s known as the “fish in, fish out” ratio.

Verlasso reduces the “fish in” number from four down to one without changing the high level of Omega-3s salmon are known for. Verlasso salmon is also leaner than traditionally farmed salmon, with a mild flavor and silky texture.

“Historically, Foods In Season has carried mainly wild seafood,” says John Anderson, owner of Foods In Season. “This will be the first farmed salmon we have ever carried. As the premier provider of foods for top chefs across the country, adding Verlasso to our offerings is a great choice because of its high quality, great taste and excellent farming practices. Sustainability is a way of life for us and we’re happy to offer Verlasso to our customers.”

To learn more about Verlasso harmoniously raised salmon, for sales inquiries and to find additional locations where Verlasso can be purchased, visit www.verlasso.com. Or, join the conversation on our Verlasso blog:http://www.verlasso.com/conversation/all/.

About North Coast Fisheries, Inc.

North Coast Fisheries was established in 1993 and developed to bring wild fish as fresh as possible from the boats to the plates of consumers through fast and efficient distribution to quality restaurants around the Northern California and wine country areas. NCF sold to Tony’s fine foods in 2008 in order to take advantage of Tony’s vast experience in logistics and the distribution abilities it has developed. Now NCF has the ability to reach out to areas it previously could not cover. NCF is very excited about this truly wonderful fish and as an expert leading company with wild stocks NCF can attest to this fish’s similar traits in eating quality.

About Foods In Season

With offices and warehouses in Washington State and Las Vegas, Foods in Season offers their customers a diverse product line that is selectively sourced covering Las Vegas, Oregon, Washington and nationwide via FedEx.

About Verlasso

Verlasso™ is committed to continuous improvement in its aquaculture practices, working in concert with some of the world’s leading thinkers to sustain people, fish and the planet. Verlasso’s harmoniously raised salmon was recently recognized bySeafood International magazine as a “Best New Food of 2011”, and as a “Top Food Trend of 2012” by Specialty Foodmagazine. To learn more about Verlasso, please visit www.verlasso.com, join us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @VerlassoSalmon.

Verlasso™ is a brand and trademark of AquaChile. AquaChile and DuPont formed a collaboration that will blend the collective innovation and aquaculture expertise of the companies to identify how to raise fish sustainably to provide nutritious protein for a growing population.

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