Aquaculture proves big catch for region
A Russell County native and a Singapore-based asset management firm are about to turn a corner of Virginia’s coalfields into an aquaculture center.
Jake Musick’s Riverbound Trout Farms is building a processing plant in Russell County. Musick expects to begin shipping fish this fall. About a quarter mile away, straddling the Russell-Tazewell county line, Pure Salmon, backed by 8F Asset Management, plans to send the first fish out of its plant in 2023.
“That location is kind of becoming a hub for aquaculture,” says Jonathan Belcher, executive director of the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority. “We feel like that’s got a lot of growth potential for the region.”
The spokes on that hub are very different, however. Riverbound wants other local entrepreneurs to develop the trout-producing equivalent of feed lots, supplying most of the 750,000 pounds of processed fish Riverbound aims to produce per year. “It’s going to help a lot of people, hopefully, to get into the business,” Musick says. “The big push is to get more farmers involved and create a green agricultural industry in Southwest Virginia.”
Riverbound, which ultimately aims to employ 20 people, received a $500,000 low-interest loan from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, and the company will be paying the Tazewell County Industrial Development Authority for Musick’s processing facility over 10 years.
Pure Salmon landed a much larger incentive package — $14.5 million, mostly in loans. It plans to employ 10 times as many people and invest $228 million. Code-named Project Jonah, after the biblical prophet who was swallowed by a great fish, the drive to get Pure Salmon on the hook lasted several years, involving a few extended deadlines. Pure Salmon representative Lala Korall praises Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell, and the state and local agencies involved in the deal. “Very often it’s the atmosphere in which you work to prepare a project that is crucial,” she says, “and they have been really pleasant and forthcoming and supportive.”
Buchanan, Russell and Tazewell counties also agreed to share in the potential profits.
During construction, Korall says, the project will employ more than 400 people. After that, Pure Salmon plans to process 20,000 tons of fish per year, employing 203 people at an average annual wage of $59,500 — more than $27,000 higher than Buchanan County’s median household income.
“That,” Belcher says, “is a very good average wage for our region.”