Del. James W. 'Will' Morefield

Del. James W. 'Will' Morefield 

TAZEWELL, Va. — A project seven years in the making is finally coming to fruition as Tazewell County will be seeing a major “fish farm” that will provide salmon to a worldwide market and employ at least 230 people.

Del. James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell County, who has been working on this venture, called “Project Jonah,” since the beginning, confirmed on Wednesday the vast complex will be the “world’s largest fully integrated indoor salmon aquaculture facility.“

“Project Jonah is going to happen and I could not be more excited for our region,” he said. “We desperately need the jobs and diversification.”

Morefield said the facility will also be one of the largest private capital investments in the history of Southwest Virginia.

“The facility will be the size of roughly 28 football fields,” he said. “The project has been ongoing since I first traveled to Israel in 2013 seeking out economic opportunities for our region. A lot of people said the project would never come to fruition but we were determined to not give up.”

Morefield said it took the cooperation of local, state and global partners to make the project a reality.

“This is the type of transformational project that we will use on an international level to attract other companies to Southwest Virginia,” he said.

Construction could start next year.

“The number of direct jobs is roughly 230 because salmon requires the use of more mechanized equipment (the initial plan was to create 400 jobs by raising tilapia), but the capital investment increased significantly from the original estimate,” he said. “Roughly 300 to 350 construction jobs will be created over a 3.5 year period and hundreds more of indirect jobs will be created when the facility is operational. There is the potential for new support businesses to be established as well. Those businesses would service the facility.”

An economic impact study estimating the local and regional impact of the project is currently under way and should be completed soon, he added.

Morefield said the Israeli company, Aqua Maof, will provide the farming technology with Pure Salmon LLC operating the facility. 8F Asset Management will be funding the project.

In an article in “Fish Farmer Magazine,” Pure Salmon said the facility has a production target of 20,000 tons per year.

The article said the $200 million project, backed by $20 million from local development agencies, will rear Atlantic salmon in an uncontaminated environment with complete bio-security, and will be close to local markets. Construction should start in 2021 with products on the market by 2024.

Pure Salmon, owned by Singapore headquartered 8F Asset Management, has already established a land based RAS (recirculating aquaculture systems) farm in Warsaw, Poland.

According to an article in The Voice, which covers Buchanan and Tazewell counties, Tazewell County supervisors approved a revenue sharing agreement with Buchanan and Russell counties during its September meeting, if those counties are willing to contribute to a loan for the project.

The project last year was given an extension on a $10 million loan from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority.

The article in The Voice also said 120 acres around the former Richlands Airport on the Clinch River was purchased by the Israeli company, and there’s an option on property owned by the Southwest Virginia Community College Foundation on the Little River.

After Morefield’s initial work, a delegation from Tazewell County traveled to Israel in early 2015 to learn more about the possibilities associated with the venture.

They then partnered with Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center and an Israeli company that owns and operates similar types of facilities around the world in hopes of developing the Project Jonah concept for Southwest Virginia.

“It is our hope that the proposed aquaculture farm vision can become a reality for Tazewell County,” Morefield said at that time, discussing the trade mission to Israel and Warsaw.

“Sometimes you have to think big when it comes to economic development, and that is just what Tazewell County officials are doing and have been doing for several years now,” he said.

In the Bible, the prophet Jonah was thrown overboard during a huge storm and swallowed by a large whale or fish where he spent three days and three nights in the creature’s stomach. This well-known biblical story became the proposed project’s name.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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