Through Emilie Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal
Where will the fish of the future be raised? Almost 30 years ago, Henning Gatz made a bet: farmed fishing was heading inland.
Now, it seems that this bet is paying off.
Gatz is the president of Aquacare Environment Inc., a Bellingham company that builds closed aquaculture systems, a method of fish farming that takes place entirely indoors, in closed and controlled tanks that can range from nearly 2,000 gallons to over 185,000 gallons.
Although it is more expensive to set up than an outdoor fish farm, such as a deep sea pond or cage, Gatz said the benefits for companies wanting to set up these operations are worth the cost. .
âWe are creating an ideal environment for fish to grow and thrive,â he said.
Raising fish in an uncontrolled environment carries risks. As an example, he cited a bloom of red algae that is killing large numbers of salmon in Chile’s fisheries.
On March 7, U.S. Representative Rick Larsen was in Bellingham chatting with local businesses, and one of his stops was in Aquacare.
Larsen was behind a recent move to re-authorize funding for the State Trade and Export Promotion, or STEP, a federal program that provides matching grants to states to help small businesses compete. at the International scale.
âWe’re big supporters of this in my office,â he said.
Through the STEP program, Aquacare was awarded a grant last year for a trip to meet a potential client in Australia.
Gatz said the face-to-face meeting is what sealed the deal – that meeting turned into a $ 500,000 order, and they are currently in talks with the same company for an even bigger deal which they claim. Gatz, is worth around $ 4 million.
“We lost a really good job in Tasmania maybe five years ago,” said Gatz, “because we couldn’t go there.” Despite being the lowest bidder, Gatz said the potential client went with a Danish company that could afford to travel to Tasmania for a face-to-face meeting.
Washington is a major user of the STEP program. In fiscal 2015, Washington received $ 747,300 in federal funding through the STEP program and matched $ 402,346, for a total of $ 1,149,646 in awards given to Washington small businesses. Washington was just behind California in the amount awarded last year.
Gatz founded Aquacare in 1987. He focused only on indoor fish farms.
âWe were a little ahead of our time,â he said. âSo there were a few lean years in the beginning, but now we’re there and that’s what the market wants. “
Gatz declined to say how much the company is making now. Aquacare has five employees who work out of its office at 708 Coho Way.
Gatz said controlled environment fish farming is greener than traditional fish farming. Indoor fish farms may be closer to cities and the consumer base. This means a lower carbon footprint from transport.
In the closed recirculation system 90-95% of the water is reused.
Aquacare helps its customers get set up to convert fish waste into fertilizer.
âThis stuff really makes plants grow,â Gatz said.
They have also worked with clients on integrating hydroponics, building systems where fish and plants are grown in symbiosis.
Aquaculture has gained attention in recent years. Mitsubishi Corp. has acquired the Norwegian salmon farming company Cermaq. Aggregate giant Cargill announced last year it was buying salmon feed supplier EWOS.
âIt has matured to the point where it is now an accepted industry,â Gatz said. He noticed that since these agreements were made, there has been more interest in fish farming.
Now Gatz hopes to have the opportunity to work closer to home.
âMaybe one day we will have the chance to build an environmentally controlled fish farm in Whatcom County,â he said. âIt would be interesting. “