US RAS tilapia farm integrates to survive, but it's lonely

By Jason Huffman -

RIDGEWAY, Virginia – Out here on an industrial 16-acre site in rural southern Virginia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, stands a real oddity, like something from a Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum. It’s a 100,000 square foot, US, land-based tilapia farm that’s making money.

Blue Ridge Aquaculture delivers almost 2,000 metric tons of live fish per year -- between 10,000 and 20,000 pounds per day -- from its 42 grow-out tanks.  No, that’s not anywhere close to as big as the 33,000t per year salmon operation that Atlantic Sapphire ultimately plans to erect in southern Florida or a similarly grand salmon facility Nordic Aquafarms has designed for mid-coast Maine, but those businesses have yet to harvest a single fish.

Blue Ridge, meanwhile, has been in business for 25 years and remains the largest tilapia farm in the US.

It’s a feat that Bill Martin, the founder and CEO, chalks up largely to a sound recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) design, some bold investments in his company and a series of lessons learned by hard knocks. But he’s not at all happy to be such a lonely figure in the small US land-based tilapia space.

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