Salmon being raised at Kuterra, a land-based salmon farm in British Columbia. Emergent Holdings, the parent company of the business that proposes a land-based salmon farm in Bucksport, has leased the Kuterra facility for 15 years, giving the company a way into the West Coast salmon market. Credit: Courtesy of Kuterra LP

The company behind a proposed Atlantic salmon farm in Bucksport has signed a 15-year lease that helps guarantee it access to salmon grown at an operation in British Columbia whose work is serving as a test bed of sorts for the Maine facility.

Emergent Holdings’ lease on the Kuterra LP facility formalizes the Maine company’s relationship with the salmon farm on northern Vancouver Island, which Emergent unsuccessfully tried to acquire earlier this year, and gives the company a foothold in the Atlantic salmon market on both coasts.

Emergent Holdings is the parent company of Whole Oceans, the business that plans to start building the Bucksport facility next year on the site of the former Verso Paper mill.

Kuterra runs the first commercial-scale, land-based recirculating aquaculture system to grow Atlantic salmon in North America and the second such operation in the world. The facility uses an older version of the technology Whole Oceans proposes to use in Bucksport, and it’s a smaller facility than the one proposed in Bucksport.

“It’s the same concept, same system, except that Bucksport’s will be newer technology, more state of the art,” Whole Oceans CEO Jacob Bartlett said.

While it failed in its bid to acquire an 88 percent stake in Kuterra, Emergent has been managing the British Columbia facility for the past year, Bartlett said. Four Mainers have been trained at Kuterra to work in Bucksport, a number that will increase as the project gains steam, he said.

The Maine company was unsuccessful in acquiring Kuterra because members of the ‘Namgis First Nation, the native North American tribe that owns the company, voted against the sale.

The lease, which didn’t require tribal members’ approval, gives Emergent access to the Atlantic salmon market in Canada and in the northwestern U.S., while the Bucksport facility would give the company access to the East Coast market.

Whole Oceans seeks to produce 5,000 tons of Atlantic salmon in Bucksport its first year, eventually increasing to 20,000 tons annually. Harvesting fish weekly over the past five months, Kuterra has produced about 150 tons of its expected annual capacity, 250 tons. The salmon has been sushi grade and sales have been brisk, Bartlett said.

“We are every day getting requests for our salmon, and we can’t fill those orders because we lack the capacity,” Bartlett said. “We are solid. We are very confident that we will hit our numbers now.”