Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fish farming

It seems that fresh, local, and organic food just tastes better. Stop by any local farmers market and you'll see busy booths where people are buying fresh local vegetables and fruits. The booths usually share similar produce depending on the season, fresh strawberries or blackberries, jalapenos, squash, or honey. But if you're looking for a non vegetarian entree you're better off heading to the nearest grocery store. Or are you?

If you happen to be shopping at the Sacramento Farmers Market, you may be able to choose among fresh black bass, silver carp, catfish, or sturgeon. These fish are so fresh they're still swimming in their portable tank when you arrive. You pick your fish and are sent home with the freshest seafood available Sacramento. The booth is run by Michael Passmore, owner of Passmore Ranch, an ex-Marine turned fish farmer. Passmore also visits the Florin Road Farmers Market in Stockton and has been a big hit at both locations.

Passmore Ranch had humble beginning in 2005 with a single pond filled with fingerlings (young fish). It has grown substantially over the years by adding ponds and increasing the types of fish. Passmore Ranch is harvesting more than 100,000 pounds of fish each year, with hopes of tripling that number in the next few years.

Fish farming isn't anything new. Rice farmers in Asia have been raising carp in their rice beds for hundreds of years with great success. It allowed those farmers with less land and livestock to diversify their "crop". Fish farming has increased as the world's population grows and as the number of wild fish decreases due to over fishing. The demand for fish has also increased as some consumers seek out healthy food choices, especially those containing omega-3 fatty acids. The consumer demand has made fish farming a requirement to meet the demands of the ever growing market for fish. It has been estimated that half of the fish consumed annually now comes from fish farms.

Despite the large amount of food produced by these fish farms they face some criticism. Fish farms that raise primarily carnivorous fish require the use of lesser or "trash" fish caught in the wild as food to maximize growth and to enhance the flavor of the farmed fish. These lesser fish called fish-meal, usually sardines and anchovies, are used as food for the growing carnivorous fish, usually farmed salmon. It can take up to 5 pounds of fish-meal to harvest just 1 pound of salmon. Many argue that the use of fish-meal does little to actually help the world fish population as fish farmers are using more pounds of wild fish than the return from farmed fish.

So, if you're in the mood for fresh fish but don't feel like making the drive to the beach, stop by the Sacramento Farmer's Market and check out the fish from Passmore Ranch. Just remember you buy the whole fish. Laws prohibit Passmore from fileting the fish for you, but they'll be more than willing to give you a quick lesson. And get there early if you want first choice. Local restaurants, as well as a few from San Francisco have discovered the fresh fish too.


JT said...

Perhaps it's time to adjust that saying to say, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish farm and you feed him for a lifetime, and his customers too."

It's promising to see that now more than half the fish consumed annually comes from fish farms. I'm curious as to whether economically, it's better for fish farmers to harvest fish alone than to rely on the wild fish population, given the high ratio of "trash" fish required.

The point regarding the effect of fish farming on the wild population is also interesting, as it would seem relying on fish farms prevents overfishing the wild population. At the same time, fish farming sounds like a promising start to alternative resources and businesses for inland regions without access to ports.

Patricija said...

Well put JT. Fish farming does sound like a promising source of income to certain rural areas. I wonder as to the start-up cost of starting a rural fish farm. It's safe to guess that the cost is significant and thus would require investment by government or those with the financial means or at least incentives (such as tax breaks).

Having a local fishery also decreases the transportation cost, thereby making buying fish more affordable and green.

Lastly, fish is indeed tasty and healthy, and those folks in rural towns who aren't able or gung-ho about catching their own fish will no longer have to miss out.