“Consumers are choosing fish more often nowadays for environmental and health reasons, increasing demand steadily both in Finland and globally. Fishing is restricted, though, because natural fish stocks are being depleted and it is difficult to increase yields from fish farming in natural waters. Moving fish farming away from natural water systems solves this availability problem,” explains Ruohtula.
Fish farming on dry land has a long tradition, but until recently commercial operations have been on a small scale. Fish farmers are now looking to enhance efficiency by increasing both the size of fish and production quantities. This is a global trend, and FIFAX is one of its leading lights.
“Worldwide, there are currently only a handful facilities of similar size producing fully-grown edible fish. It’s estimated that almost one-hundred large-scale facilities are in the fund-raising stage or have started construction,” Ruohtula points out.
In FIFAX’s recirculating-water facility, fish are farmed in large onshore pools of constantly moving water, pumped from the sea. The water circulates through a cleaning system once every hour which eliminates the need for antibiotics or pesticides to protect against diseases in the wild. Swimming against the current makes the rainbow trout firm and muscular. The fish and conditions are constantly monitored, ensuring rainbow trout of homogeneous quality.
“Fish production doesn’t need to be at the mercy of the sea and weather. Our recirculating-water facility produces premium-quality fish throughout the year,” Ruohtula adds.
Plans for a second and a third fish hatchery
Construction of FIFAX’s 15,000 square metre production plant started in 2014. The facility is based on technology supplied by a Norwegian-Danish company, enhanced both jointly and separately to suit Finnish conditions. The technology now operates successfully, and the facility is ramping up production.
“We encountered many challenges, and the work didn’t progress as planned. The final phase of construction was completed in early spring 2020. When the facility is operating at full capacity, it contains some 900 tonnes of fish. The technical capacity of the facility is roughly 3,200 tonnes a year, so we’re aiming for over 200 tonnes of gutted rainbow trout a month at full capacity,” Ruohtula says.
Growth is an obvious goal for FIFAX, so there are already plans to build a second and a third fish farm over the next decade. Ruohtula calculates that when FIFAX’s current facility is operating at full capacity it will produce enough fish to meet the estimated annual growth in demand in the Finnish and Swedish markets.
“We need more capacity. Currently, most of the fish eaten in Finland is imported from Norway, even though Finns would prefer to eat Finnish fish,” Ruohtula emphasises.
Sustainable fish farming a new export springboard?
FIFAX already exports fish to Sweden. Ruohtula envisages that fish and fish farming could be a new export sector, opening up almost unlimited markets.
“It’s an optimal situation. Recirculating-water fish farming first started in Finland back in the 1980s, so nowadays there is plenty of specialised expertise available and aquaculture facilities of various sizes. Finland also has private consultants with abundant knowhow in fish farming. LUKE (Natural Resources Institute Finland) has also been researching and developing recirculating-water fish farming for many years now. If we take the right steps, Finland could foster a cluster of companies farming fish sustainably and creating considerable added value. Alongside fresh, premium-quality fish, the cluster could export RAS consultancy services and recirculating aquaculture systems as project packages,” explains Ruohtula.
In addition to FIFAX, there is a handful of recirculating-water facilities operating in Finland. Ruohtula is aware of at least two larger land-based fish farm initiatives in Sweden, but neither has yet been completed. Norway and Denmark are major players in commercial fish farming and recirculating aquaculture.
“We could join the major league here in Finland too, if we are simply bold enough,” declares Ruohtula.
Water circulation minimises emissions
A recirculating-water facility is ecological and responsible because the circulation saves water and reduces emissions into the water system. According to Ruohtula, FIFAX’s facility is a world leader in the efficiency of its water purification system, capable of treating the wastewater of a city of 50,000 inhabitants.
“Fish excretions cause eutrophication and accelerate algal bloom, so we use biological, bacteria-based, purification elements to remove them. The output from the process is fish slurry, which is three times more nutritious than cattle manure,” explains Ruohtula.
At present, a truckload of fish slurry per day is produced when the facility is operating at half its capacity. The slurry is taken to a composting plant but there are many options for utilising it, leaving plenty of scope for research and development. A biogas plant is one option that Ruohtula mentions. If the same number of fish were farmed in the sea, in a net-enclosed aquafarm, the slurry would cause harm in the sea.
“We recover practically all the water and nutrients. Our nitrogen and phosphorus emissions are so small that we don’t even require an environmental permit, and they’re certainly much less than most of our competitors’ emissions,” he comments excitingly.
The fish farm consumes a great deal of electricity, which is generated with wind power. Ruohtula says some steps are still needed to reduce the use of energy.
Building a recirculating aquaculture facility is not cheap. FIFAX ‘s facility has so far cost about €60 million on its facility so far. That is more than originally envisaged, but to the best of Ruohtula’s knowledge, around the same figure as the cost estimates for facilities of similar size now raising funds.
Some 24,000 cubic metres of water circulate every hour in FIFAX’s fish farming ponds. A constant current flows in the ponds, ensuring the physical and nutritional quality of the fish.
What it is: A company that farms rainbow trout using an ecofriendly recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) in an almost completely closed-circuit fish farm. Established in 2012.
Where it is: Production facility in Eckerö in the Åland Islands.
Customers: Wholesalers and fish processors in Finland and Sweden.
Investors and owners: Several investment rounds. Owners are private individuals and companies from the Åland Islands, Finland and Sweden. Helmet Capital represents most of the investors. Tesi participated in the latest investment round with a significant investment.
Who he is: CEO of FIFAX since 2019. Previously worked with the company while at Helmet Capital for about a year.
Education: MSc (Eng) from Helsinki University of Technology.
Employment history: A long career in Nokia in various management positions, spending four years in France and five years in China. After returning from China, worked with small companies, such as IKI-Kiuas Oy, as an entrepreneur and investor.
Why these companies: He is interested in companies manufacturing something that is important to people and mainly selling through continuously operating distribution channels.
Leisure activities: DIY in an old wooden house, plays piano and trombone at home and in bands. His new hobby is CrossFit.