Prince Edward Island is Anne of Green Gables country, a pastoral wonderland on the east coast of Canada. It is a Technicolor quilt of clapboard houses and potato fields where each year thousands of tourists buy straw hats with Anne’s two red braids sewn into them. It does not look like the kind of place where a risky experiment might be taking place. But that changes when, on a wintry March morning, you arrive at the AquaBounty Technologies (ABTX:LN) facility on Fortune Bay. A chain link fence surrounds the perimeter, and signs warn would-be trespassers that they are being watched by eight motion-activated video cameras.This fish hatchery is like no other. It’s run by a man who, with his white mustache, blue eyes, and reddened face, looks like he could run a candy store in a Jimmy Stewart movie. “Greenpeace parachuted in here once,” AquaBounty Chief Executive Officer Ronald Stotish says, standing just outside the building. “They stayed long enough for the TV cameras to film them.”
Inside, Stotish, 65, slips medical booties over his loafers and sloshes through a brownish puddle of disinfectant. After instructing a visitor to do the same, he signs his name on a clipboard and enters a low-ceilinged room with rows of green circular tanks, each about the size of a washing machine, linked together by a maze of white PVC piping. They are all filled with clouds of small, silvery fish, but Stotish wants to start our tour at the beginning. In a room off to the side, he points out shelves slotted with gray trays, numeric codes scribbled on them with a Sharpie. We slide one out and lift a fine screen to see thousands of pink eggs with pinprick eyes bobbing in the water.
The product of $78 million of research and development, these may be the world’s most valuable fish eggs. The AquAdvantage fish is a variation of Atlantic salmon, genetically modified to grow to market size in two years rather than three. That means money for salmon farmers, who sell about $12 billion worth of salmon every year. More important, it could relieve pressure on the environmentally taxing process of fish farming, an industry that has doubled in size in the last decade. But the prospect of an engineered fish entering our food supply and, potentially, escaping into the ocean and wiping out wild fish has caused environmental groups to launch a merciless political and public-relations assault on the company.