A talk with the founders of Katahdin Salmon

Published by Katahdin Salmon Inc on April 24th, 2023


Any great growth company starts with talented people on a mission. Katahdin Salmon is bringing together some of the most experienced people in North America to create a company that will advance healthy local food in the US. Katahdin Salmon is focused on financial, biological, people, social, and environmental outcomes. All of this starts with people.

Marianne Naess and Erik Heim co-founded Katahdin Salmon in 2022. Both have long careers in the corporate world and as entrepreneurs. Heim has been a first mover in multiple notable aquaculture undertakings in Europe and the US in the past 15 years. Naess stepped into aquaculture 5 years ago after an executive career in large international corporations. Now their focus is on Katahdin Salmon’s starting point – Millinocket, Maine – a site location with exceptional qualities for aquaculture.

Great businesses are enabled by great people, says Naess. We are carefully crafting a business in Maine where management and staff have room to leverage their talent and expertise. And we invest in our people. We place a high priority on building a strong team where trust, respect, communication, and the pursuit of robust science are at the core of our culture. We are building a culture and a team with strong ownership of outcomes that will define this company.

RAS salmon farming is a knowledge-intensive segment, and a successful growth story comes down to the quality of your team – both strategically and operationally, says Naess. For us, that includes building long-term relationships with our strategic partners.

We have seen salmon RAS grow and go through a decade of a learning curve with ups and downs. It takes time to turn some learning advances into outcomes because the development cycle for a critical-size RAS farm is usually 4-5 years. We know a lot more today than current farms in operation were able to incorporate into their design thinking as recently as four, or five years back. So, the true outcomes from advancements in research and learning in Salmon RAS lie ahead of us, says Heim. 

We are bullish on behalf of the segment because it will be critical for the US to establish a domestic supply of its most popular finfish. But the extent to which advances are captured and effectively executed in new farms comes down to the quality of the team, says Heim. Discipline in prioritizing, capturing, and executing high-impact strategies will avoid sending companies and investors down a learning curve others already have walked.

For Salmon RAS, it is key to hit the sweet spot on the scale – not too small or too large, says Heim. A 1000-metric farm may be a sensible place for a newcomer to start, but the road will be long to material profits and scale benefits in a segment driven by scale. If you want efficient processing, onsite oxygen generation, truly leveraging AI potential, innovative waste handling, and other supporting functions, you need a certain scale to defend them. On the other hand, very large RAS farms involve increased complexity and risk, and they are hard to finance in today’s market. With smart site selection, however, medium-sized farms can achieve very competitive cost metrics. We believe we are close to that sweet spot, says Heim.

Selling quality salmon products is not a challenge with the enormous salmon deficit in the US, says Naess. The fact that we have distribution agreements coming in this early speaks volumes. This segment now needs to be focused on quality, biomass, time to market, and cost metrics above all. RAS is a proven technology, as it is the ability to grow quality fish – what needs to be proven now is a competitive path to reaching the revenue targets. This comes down to execution for this segment today with lots of hard work ahead of us, she says.

We are excited on behalf of Millinocket, says Naess. We see so much opportunity for this community in the years to come and look forward to being a part of that journey. Millinocket provided what no one else could – a large supply of renewable power, large clean water resources, connecting infrastructure on the site, and superb construction conditions.

Katahdin Salmon is well into the first steps of its roadmap with a 100 percent focus on creating a world-class development in Millinocket. For us, people, community, environment, and delivering on investor expectations go hand-in-hand, she says. We are excited to take the next steps with our growing team.