Demonstrations against Pure Salmon in France

By Laurence Girard 20 January 2022

Original article in Le Monde

Two salmon “farm-factory” projects in Pas-de-Calais spark controversy.

The Singaporean Pure Salmon and the Swiss Local Ocean each want to settle in the Boulonnais, to the chagrin of local residents, associations and elected officials.
"No to intensive fish farming in the Boulogne area": ​​it is behind this slogan that residents, associations, elected officials gathered on Saturday, October 30, to denounce the project of the company Pure Salmon, in Boulogne-sur-Mer (Pas de Calais). A “factory farm”, as its detractors call it, which should be able to produce 10,000 tonnes of fish per year.

Demonstration against the proposed installation by Pure Salmon of a salmon farm, in Boulogne-sur-Mer (Pas-de-Calais), Saturday, October 30. JOHAN BEN AZZOUZ / PHOTOPQR / VOICE OF THE NORTH / MAXPPP

“The 10,000 tonnes of salmon that Pure Salmon wishes to produce are to be compared to the 30,000 tonnes of fish landed each year by fishermen in the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer”, estimates Denis Buhagiar, elected EELV to the community of agglomeration of Boulonnais (CAB) and actor of the mobilization. With the other demonstrators, he was to submit to the prefecture a petition against the project, which collected 63,000 signatures. Opponents criticize the excessive consumption of water and energy of this intensive breeding, underline the risks of pollution and animal suffering, without forgetting the artificialization of agricultural land.

In fact, the Pure Salmon aquaculture initiative was officially presented at the beginning of 2020, during the Choose France event, chaired by Emmanuel Macron. On this occasion, foreign groups wishing to establish themselves in France are welcomed with open arms. However, the financier of this large-scale salmon farming is none other than the Singaporean investment fund 8F Asset Management.

143 million euros invested

Created in 2016, it raised 360 million dollars (311.4 million euros) in 2020, then an additional 60 million dollars in September 2021, to develop Pure Salmon. In its round is the Israeli company AquaMaof, instigator of the closed circuit aquaculture technology, selected by 8F. The water is, in fact, pumped, filtered and reoxygenated, to be reused in ponds built on land, unlike farms at sea. Pure Salmon says it has tested its concept in a first pilot installation in Poland. It is now targeting, in real size, France, Japan, the United States and the Middle East.

The water needs of the aquaculture farm are equivalent to the annual consumption of 10,000 inhabitants

To carry out the project in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pure Salmon has recruited Xavier Govare. The former head of the Labeyrie company, has been appointed president of Pure Salmon France. The company says it is ready to invest 143 million euros in its land-based aquaculture farm, including a hatchery, a breeding unit and a processing workshop, and promises around a hundred jobs. In February, Frédéric Cuvillier, president PS of the CAB, pushed through a vote in favor of the promise of sale of the grounds that was necessary for this establishment. This vote concerns more than 15 hectares of predominantly agricultural land, located in the Landacres business park, straddling two towns in Pas-de-Calais, Baincthun and Hesdin-l'Abbé. To facilitate the establishment, a discount of 25% was applied to the sale price of the land, sold for 2 million euros.

“Very insufficient file”

However, when seized, the regional environmental authority mission (MRAE) published, in May, a very critical opinion on the project. “The file is very insufficient, certain studies such as that of biodiversity are still in progress, others are insufficient (landscape, hazard study which does not study the ammonia risk, for example) and certain elements of the project are still under consideration, especially regarding the plant's water supply,” she wrote, asking Pure Salmon to review its copy. On the crucial point of water, the MRAE specifies that the needs of the aquaculture farm are estimated at 547,000 m3 per year, plus 1,500 m3 per day, i.e. the equivalent of the annual consumption of 10,000 inhabitants.

Pure Salmon is not alone in the race to set up giant fish farms. Another company, headquartered in Switzerland, Local Ocean, asked the operating company of the Boulogne-sur-Mer commercial port to occupy a 45,500 m2 plot. Local Ocean estimates the investment at 106 million euros and the number of potential jobs number between 75 and 150. Also betting on a closed-circuit land aquaculture system, but partially desalinating the seawater, Local Ocean says it aims to produce 8,500 tonnes of salmon per year. With the possibility of increasing it up to 15,000 tons. On July 1, the CAB, under the leadership of Mr. Cuvillier, took a step forward in this project, the financial structure of which is not known. It voted to allocate a loan of 2.5 million euros to Local Ocean, the Hauts-de-France regional council providing, for its part, an equivalent amount.