Sunday, June 01, 2014

The world now produces more farmed fish than beef — and that's just the beginning

How to Farm a Better Fish

In a dark, dank warehouse in the Blue Ridge foothills of Virginia, Bill Martin picks up a bucket of brown pellets and slings them into a long concrete tank. Fat, white tilapia the size of dinner plates boil to the surface. Martin, president of Blue Ridge Aquaculture, one of the world’s largest indoor fish farms, smiles at the feeding frenzy.

BY JOEL K. BOURNE, JR.
National Geographic

“This is St. Peter’s fish, the fish Jesus fed the multitudes,” he says, his raspy voice resonating like a preacher’s. Unlike Jesus, however, Martin does not give his fish away. Each day he sells 12,000 pounds of live tilapia to Asian markets from Washington, D.C., to Toronto, and he’s planning another farm on the West Coast. “My model is the poultry industry,” he says. “The difference is, our fish are perfectly happy.”

“How do you know they’re happy?” I ask, noting that the mat of tilapia in the tank looks thick enough for St. Peter to walk on.

“Generally they show they’re not happy by dying,” Martin says. “I haven’t lost a tank of fish yet.”

An industrial park in Appalachia may seem an odd place to grow a few million natives of the Nile. But industrial-scale fish farms are popping up everywhere these days. Aquaculture has expanded about 14-fold since 1980. In 2012 its global output, from silvery salmon to homely sea cucumbers only a Chinese cook could love, reached more than 70 million tons—exceeding beef production clearly for the first time and amounting to nearly half of all fish and shellfish consumed on Earth. Population growth, income growth, and seafood’s heart-healthy reputation are expected to drive up demand by 35 percent or more in just the next 20 years. With the global catch of wild fish stagnant, experts say virtually all of that new seafood will have to be farmed.

(More here.)

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