Blue Ridge Aquaculture, Inc. (BRA)
Blue Ridge Aquaculture, Inc. is the world’s largest producer of tilapia using indoor recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). Each year, Blue Ridge Aquaculture produces 4 million pounds of tilapia, shipping between 10,000 and 20,000 pounds of live tilapia every day. These fish are raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones, and are free of mercury (undetectable levels from independent studies) and other industrial pollutants. Blue Ridge Aquaculture was founded in 1993, and has been in continuous operation for nearly twenty years. Headquarters and operations are located in Martinsville, Virginia. The company operates out of an 100,000 Sq. Ft. facility, and employs approximately thirty people.
The Company sells live fish to distributers in major metropolitan markets in the North East, such as New York, Boston, Toronto and Washington, D.C. These consumers are primarily Asian and Hispanic-American individuals with a cultural preference for live seafood. Management believes that BRA currently controls approximately 20% of the domestic market for live tilapia.
BRA’s indoor Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) grows seafood in a clean environment that allows control to a degree not available in open system aquaculture (ponds, net-pens, flow-through). Recirculating systems maximize water re-use through the removal of solids, bio-filtration, gas balancing, oxygenation and disinfection. This technology eliminates the need for a large water source as well as the environmental impact associated with disposing of wastewater. BRA leads the industry in all aquaculture performance measures, including high growth rates, high production densities, low Feed Conversion Ratio’s, and very low mortalities. The company understands the negative effects of stress on the animals and maintains ideal living conditions for optimal and efficient growth.
BRA operates with a focus on its triple bottom line. From an environmental perspective, the Company believes RAS are the most environmentally beneficial source of protein because of its relatively small ecological footprint, the high water re-use (over 85% of the water is recycled back into the system), and captured effluent with no environmental discharge. Socially, BRA views its workforce as an asset and an advantage, which is reflected in the benefits program it offers. The company has a strong health insurance program for qualified employees, a profit-sharing program and pay rates above the regional average. Economically, the company has generated attractive returns for its owners and employees, and believes these returns will continue.
Blue Ridge Aquaculture, Inc. was founded in 1993 with plans to produce tilapia using an existing indoor aquaculture facility in Martinsville, Virginia. The Martinsville facility had produced and processed catfish in previous years as Blue Ridge Fisheries (1988 – 1991), but the business was not successful in overcoming flaws in the design of the recirculating systems and eventually ceased operations. Many of the same investors from Blue Ridge Fisheries participated in the formation of Blue Ridge Aquaculture. A newer, stronger company emerged with redesigned equipment and processes to improve survivability and growth rates. After modifying the 100,000 square foot facility, Blue Ridge Aquaculture began producing tilapia in 1993. Over the coming years, Blue Ridge Aquaculture experienced a series of disease problems that challenged growth and continuing operations. After implementing a strict bio-secure program and operating with a culture of disease prevention, the company has been able to operate disease free since 1997.
By 2002, Blue Ridge Aquaculture was operating as a fully integrated system, including broodstock, hatchery, nursery, growout and distribution of live tilapia. At that point it was producing approximately two million pounds of tilapia per year. Over the next 5 years (2002 - 2007), Blue Ridge Aquaculture focused on improving its bottom-line, concentrating on quality, supply reliability and positioning of the Blue Ridge Aquaculture tilapia in the marketplace. By 2007 Blue Ridge Aquaculture was able to double production, with a similar increase in revenue. To date, Blue Ride Aquaculture has raised over 22,000 metric tonnes of tilapia, wfe.
Blue Ridge Aquaculture's vision is to become the leading domestic producer of high quality seafood using indoor recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). The company plans to accomplish this goal by 1) sequentially expanding its tilapia production capacity to 10 million pounds (phase I), then to 100 million pounds (phase II), 2) developing a fresh fillet product which will provide access to larger markets, and 3) developing the production of other species in similar systems.
Blue Ridge Aquaculture is committed to the idea that we can, and should produce more of our seafood in the United States. These products should be free of hormones, antibiotics, and industrial pollutants; it is our responsibility to provide the consumer with a healthy product. And this seafood should be produced in a way that does not do damage the local environment, respects our gift of water, and enhances the local social system that produces it.
Currently, the United States imports over 80% of the seafood it consumes. Imported products arrive with little oversight for food safety, ecological impacts and social issues. This large seafood trade deficit is in stark contrast to the other food proteins we grow in the United States, chiefly poultry, beef and pork.
Blue Ridge Aquaculture has been producing tilapia in Recirculating Aquaculture Systems for nearly two decades, and has proven that large-scale RAS is a viable production method. This unique system requires a fraction of the land necessary to produce the same amount of fish with traditional pond aquaculture techniques. They can be located close to markets, and away from expensive and ecologically sensitive coastal areas. These systems allow the producer to capture the waste streams and prevent them from entering the local environment. This effluent can be commercialized, converting the waste into a revenue stream; turning a liability into an asset.
These systems allow for complete control over every aspect of the growout process, giving the producer a level of husbandry and animal care not available in any other production system. This is the key difference between these systems and other large-scale farming operations- the ability to produce a protein source without using antibiotics and growth hormones. This is achieved by reducing the stress on the fish as much as possible; stress causes the animals to stop eating, and greatly increases their susceptibility to disease. Focusing on reducing stress will reduce mortalities, reduce Feed Conversion Ratios, increase growth rates and quality, and improves the performance of the business.
Because of the high water re-use and the small footprint, these systems are very scaleable. The farm has developed a proven system that raises a healthy, sustainable food source. The business has generated attractive financial returns with a dedication to social responsibility. The demand for a healthy seafood product raised in the United States will continue to grow and be strong. With these concepts, Blue Ridge Aquaculture sees large-scale expansion very possible, and has developed a strong business model to achieve its vision. BRA is actively seeking investment partners to facilitate the expansion of its tilapia production.