The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization produced a new study that says the United States has the greatest potential for fish farming. While oceanic agriculture has become popular overseas, it still hasn’t taken hold in North America. In a recent interview with NPR, Michael Rubino, the director of aquaculture at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said this could be because the industry faces heavy opposition from environmentalists and coastal residents, who aren’t willing to give up their unobstructed views.
Environmentalists have good reason to be suspicious of fish farms. Previously, these ocean-bound fish stables have been breeding grounds for diseases that can spread to nearby wild marine life. Another major problem with fish farming is the feed is often made with large amounts of other smaller fish, which are swept up by the shipload.
The NPR report goes on to examine greener and cleaner indoor fish farming solutions. The Yoni Zohar laboratory at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore has developed one such solution by building fish factories on land. The basement laboratory has more than a dozen plastic tanks all filled with artificial seawater and hundreds of fish. The entire indoor ecosystem is completely closed off from the outside environment and controlled.
While it might seem unnatural on the surface, Zohar has managed to create a sustainable environment that’s even suitable for fish like gilt-head seabream, which are rare to see even in the wild. What’s more, Zohar has managed to simulate the seabream’s natural spawning grounds, making it possible for it and other saltwater fish to reproduce in captivity.
All the water that passes through Zohar’s system is completely recycled. Bacteria converts waste filtered out of the water into harmless nitrogen methane, which is burned for energy. In place of feed made of churned fish, Zohar is also testing a new kind of feed produced with common grains plus algae and one supplemental amino acid that fish require. While it’s a clean and greener system, for aquaculture to actually to work beyond the laboratory setting, indoor fish farms need to be profitable. NPR highlights Bill Martin’s Blue Ridge Aquaculture tilapia factory in Martinsville as one successful operation. Martin rolls out 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of live tilapia on trucks bound for markets from Baltimore to Toronto, but competing with the import industry is a huge challenge.
It’s nice to see that fish farming is happening in the United States, but there’s a long road ahead if it wants to make a dent in the real world. Local fish farming could be a much cleaner alternative than flying over farmed salmon from Chile or shrimp from Southeast Asia. For the full, original story be sure to check out NPR.