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Selecting the right site for your RAS project

Ronen Benyamin | Director of Projects

11.03.2021

As an entrepreneur planning to build a RAS (Recirculating Aquaculture System) facility, one of the first things you need to do is to identify the right site. This decision has significant operational, engineering, logistical, and economic implications. With a direct impact on your business plan, it is a crucial factor in the viability of your project.

When it comes to site selection, it’s therefore very important to invest the necessary resources and take a very thorough, professional and comprehensive approach. It pays to get it right from the outset – the facility design is based on the specific site you choose, and it is very difficult and costly to change it later on.

Having accumulated years of experience in supporting entrepreneurs through this stage, I’m happy to share my top seven considerations to be addressed by any entrepreneur who is currently at this juncture.

 Location

A top priority is to check the sites’ location in terms of your target market – the closer you are to the market itself the more you save on transportation expenses.
When considering ways to save costs, there is a temptation to purchase a site that’s in a remote or isolated area, because in most cases this will be the more economical option. However, your facility will have to be operated by a team of people, so it’s important to make sure that you’ll be able to find the skilled, technical and other staff you’ll need, nearby. Of course, it’s always possible to set up a workers’ living area closer to the site, but this will increase your project costs. Also, check local availability of good contractors, to avoid the expenses of bringing them on site from further afield.

Grieg NL Smolt facility, Canada, integrating AquaMaof RAS Technology
Grieg NL Smolt facility, Canada

The environment

Environmental conditions are highly relevant when considering where to build your new facility. Take time to verify existing meteorological conditions throughout the year. For example, is the area subject to extreme weather, such as strong winds, tornadoes, hurricanes, or even sand storms? Any of these will have an impact on the design and operation of your facility.

In terms of topography, it is recommended to build on a slightly sloped or elevated area, to enhance drainage of rain water. This may also reduce the volume of earthworks required during construction.

If you plan to use oxygen generators at your facility, you’ll need access to plenty of fresh air. For optimal oxygen levels, it is advised to choose a site at an altitude not exceeding 1000 meters above sea level, that is also located at a safe distance from any polluting installations such as oil, gas or chemical plants.

Once the other elements are in place, you’ll need to carry out geological and soil tests to make sure the area is suitable for construction works. It’s advisable to look for ground that is not too hard and rocky, which would require the complex and pricey task of rock blasting, nor too soft, which would carry a risk of subsidence over time. Also, make sure the soil doesn’t contain any contaminants, as these can complicate and increase the cost of the excavations.

AquaMaof Salmon RAS Project in Vologda, Russia
AquaMaof Salmon RAS Project in Vologda, Russia

Utilities

Once up and running, your facility will require powerlines of high voltage. Be aware of any power lines crossing the site, and check their height and any relevant local building regulations, as these will impact the design of your facility.

For production of warm water species in cold countries, it is important to check that you have access to a medium or high-pressure gas line for water heating. If not, you will need to make provision in your plans for a gas tank.

RAS facilities use liquid oxygen as a main or back-up oxygen supply. Make sure there’s a liquid oxygen production plant near your proposed site, to minimize the amount of liquid oxygen you’ll need to store on site.

Finally, in terms of utilities, it’s recommended that you have access to a communications network, including high-speed internet. These can be set up independently, but doing so involves considerable costs.

Make-up water infrastructure

You want your facility to be close to a water source, municipal or underground water source, ideally no more than several hundred meters away. If you are limited to a remote water source, you will have to factor in the significant costs and timing associated with building the infrastructure needed to transport water to your facility.

Check the nature of your nearest water source to ensure that it is of the right quality for fish farming – carry out laboratory tests to find what substances might be in the water and what type of treatment will be required to make it suitable for use. Also, it is important to check that the water source is sufficient to meet the planned water consumption requirements of the facility.

Salmon Production Facility Japan
Salmon Production Facility Japan (Soul of Japan, illustration)

Road access

Convenient access to the site is very important, both during the construction period and throughout the operational phase. Ideally, there should already be a hard asphalt or concrete road within several hundred meters of the site, otherwise one will have to be built, which entails substantial costs.

It’s also crucial to bear in mind that you will need full access to the site for 40-foot containers arriving from the port of destination.

Biosecurity

In terms of biosecurity, the goal is to prevent pathogens entering the facility that could harm the fish. So, when choosing your site, it is advisable to stay away from as many potential causes of contamination as possible. Some examples of possible sources of disease that you should avoid include:

  • other fish farms
  • migration routes of birds and other animals
  • livestock facilities, like poultry and pig farms
  • areas close to water spray from the sea
  • swamps, rivers, creeks, garbage dumps, burials sites.
Grouper Production Facility Far East
Grouper Production Facility Far East

Regulations

Your legal due diligence should include checks of what types of land use are permitted at the proposed site, in particular whether there is any provision in the local regulations specifically regarding RAS facilities.
It is also important to check the regulations in the area of your planned location, including permitted options for discharging wastewater, sludge and garbage disposal – all will have a direct impact on the design phase and the project cost.

There’s a lot to consider when planning a RAS facility – location, environmental issues, availability of utilities and suitable water infrastructure, access to the site, biosecurity and regulations – are just some of the highlights, so hiring a professional to conduct a comprehensive site review and in-depth examination of all the relevant aspects is extremely important. Bear in mind that the necessary checks can take time to do properly, so it’s highly recommended to start looking for a site as early as possible.

We at AquaMaof accompany our customers throughout all the stages of their RAS project, from concept – through site selection – to the successful running of their facility. We’d be happy to help you too!

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