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AquaBounty Lines Up First U.S. Fish Farm With Deal for Indiana Site

Xconomy Boston — 

[Corrected, 6/16/17, 12:03 pm. See below.] When salmon from AquaBounty Technologies reach grocery stores and restaurants, some of them will come from America’s heartland.

AquaBounty (NASDAQ: AQB) has agreed to pay $14 million in cash to acquire some of the assets of Bell Fish Company, including that company’s fish farm in Albany, IN. The deal will give Maynard, MA-based AquaBounty its first U.S. fish farm.

AquaBounty has developed a way to grow salmon faster by adding a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon to Atlantic salmon. The Chinook gene enables Atlantic salmon to reach market weight faster. The company calls its genetically engineered salmon AquAdvantage. In 2015, the FDA approved the AquaBounty salmon for sale in the U.S., concluding that the fish is as safe to eat as conventional Atlantic salmon. Last year, Canada’s health regulator approved the salmon for the Canadian market.

Though AquaBounty has the regulatory go-ahead to sell its salmon, it has yet to do so. The FDA approval also kickstarted a plan to come up with special labeling for the fish, even though U.S. laws do not require it. Those labeling guidelines have not yet been published. In the meantime, AquaBounty has been laying the groundwork to produce more of its salmon. The company operates a Panama fish farm that filters its water and recirculates it in the tank. This entirely enclosed, land-based aquaculture system protects against the mixing of wild salmon with genetically engineered salmon.

In its first quarter financial report, AquaBounty said it expects that its first sales from fish grown at the Panama site will come in late 2017, “with more significant revenues expected once a new facility is in full production.” Speaking at the North Carolina Marine Biotechnology & Seafood Symposium in Research Triangle Park, NC, last fall, AquaBounty CEO Ron Stotish said that the company would either build or acquire another fish farm in the U.S. or Canada. AquaBounty’s search took it to Indiana.

Bell Fish, formerly known as Bell Aquaculture, was owned by Dallas-based private equity firm Trive Capital. Trive acquired Bell Aquaculture last year after the trout fish farm ran into financial trouble in 2015, according to seafood news website IntraFish. AquaBounty is acquiring Bell Fish’s Indiana land, buildings, and equipment—but not its inventory of trout and fish eggs, the company says in an SEC filing. AquaBounty won’t continue Bell Fish’s trout business, and will instead use the site and its 1,200-metric ton capacity recirculating aquaculture system to grow its AquAdvantage salmon. [Capacity of Bell site corrected.]

AquaBounty expects that its first harvest of salmon from the Indiana site will come by the third quarter of 2019. The company says that when it is fully operational, the facility’s annual capacity will be about 1,200 metric tons of salmon, which AquaBounty says represents more than $10 million a year in potential sales at current Atlantic salmon prices. AquaBounty expects to close its acquisition of the Bell Fish assets within 30 days.

Photo by Flickr user FieldsportsChannel TV via a Creative Commons license.