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Land-based Gold River Aquafarms project could provide up to 100 jobs

Steelhead aquaculture facility at former sawmill site just waiting for regulatory approval
Indoor raceways at an existing land-based aquaculture facility, similar to those planned for the proposed Gold River Aquafarms facility. Photo courtesy Robert Walker.

A company working to establish a land-based steelhead aquaculture facility in Gold River has a site and backers for its operation, but is still waiting on regulatory approval to launch.

Led by president Rob Walker, Gold River Aquafarms has plans to raise 3,000 tonnes of steelhead (an ocean-living form of rainbow trout) each year at the site of a former sawmill near the Vancouver Island village. Once established, the facility could expand to an annual production of 10,000 tonnes, and the company will look to establish a secondary processing facility in Gold River, Walker said in an interview.

“The long-term prospects for that site are terrific,” he said. “There’s really good infrastructure, there’s great water and we’ve got lots of local support.”

The project started when Walker and his two partners were invited by the site’s owners to assess its suitability for a land-based aquaculture operation. They deemed the site viable and completed plans for the facility, including flow-through ‘raceways’ to reduce energy expenditure and maximize water quality.

Steelhead was selected because it grows well in closed systems at high densities and demand for it is increasing, said Walker.

“It’s a beautiful fish — it grows to the right size, it looks great on the plate and tastes great,” he said.

Gold River Aquafarms then provided a letter of intent to the site owners, saying they would pursue financing and permitting for the site. Upon receipt of both, they will together reach a long-term lease agreement.

The company was then able to secure financing backing, a deal also dependent on regulatory approval.

“They’re not investors in the sense that they want a quick return — they want to be equity holders and help the organization to its full extent,” Walker said of the American organization, the name of which he withheld.

But after applying for provincial and federal approval for the facility at the start of the year, Gold River Aquafarms is still waiting for an answer.

“When we first started thinking about this, we thought this is a project that really ticks all the boxes — it’s a facility that was licensed 15 years ago, already has an agricultural facility on the site, has all the infrastructure, it’s land-based and fully contained — so we thought the regulatory process would be fairly quick,” he said.

Walker and his two partners are not the only ones hoping this green light flashes soon.

“The owners are quite keen on this project, and of course, all of Gold River is very keen for many reasons,” he said.

The project has the potential to help reinvent Gold River, which lost its pulp and paper mill in 1998, by creating 75 to 100 jobs and generating tax revenue, both directly and indirectly, said Mayor Brad Unger.

“To continue offering the services we do today we need economic development, housing, and more businesses to come to town, and to me, this project is a good beginning,” he said. “We need jobs — and this project will not only bring jobs, but help put the fish aquaculture industry on land. It’s a no-brainer to move forward.”

READ ALSO: Campbell River conservationists to hold info session on Willow Creek restoration

We Wai Kai First Nation examining sablefish aquaculture feasibility

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