Wild fish? Farmed fish? No fish? This is no Dr. Seuss rip-off; it’s the increasingly confusing situation that seafood consumers are facing. But as Tim Zimmermann found in our June 2015 feature, a growing horde of thoughtful farmers, scientists, and harvesters wants to bring the fruits of the sea into the 21st century—and they’ll stop at nothing to figure out how.
Photo: Fully grown barramundi are transferred into a new tank at Australis Aquaculture headquarters in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. Fish at the plant move through a series of progressively larger tanks that give them more space to swim as they grow. They are held in superclean water for a few days before being shipped out.
Jennifer Dianto Kemmerley, director of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, gets ready to take a dive in the kelp forest on the roof of the aquarium. To Kemmerley’s left is a specially designed surge machine that creates the constant water movement in the tank that kelp needs to survive.
Kemmerley dives in the kelp forest. At 28 feet deep, it’s one of the tallest aquarium exhibits in the world. The tank is home to sardines, leopard sharks, and a host of other fish.
Gary Moretti of Bangs Island Mussels ties up La Cozze (“The Mussel”) alongside a mussel raft. Each raft is composed of 40-by-40-foot steel frames that dangle 400 fuzzy ropes (the mussels adhere to them) reaching depths of 30 to 40 feet. Casco Bay is the perfect mussel breeding ground since it contains minimal sediment and plenty of phytoplankton, giving the mussels a higher meat-to-shell ratio.
Bangs Island Mussels has been operating in Casco Bay, off the coast of Portland, Maine, since 1999.
USDA scientist Rick Barrows feeds rainbow trout pellets made of plant-based protein ingredients like pistachio meal, corn protein concentrate, and soybean meal. Twice a day, these large fish are given pellets until they reach “apparent satiation”—that is, until they stop eating. Fish of this size are kept on hand for conducting digestibility studies of new ingredients.
Rick Barrows shows a wall of different fish feeds manufactured at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Bozeman, Montana. Barrows has demonstrated that eight popular fish-farm species do as well or better on his fish-meal-free feeds, which helps the aquaculture industry reduce the pressure they’re putting on maxed-out forage fish stocks. The shelves hold 500 to 600 samples for approximately 20 different species. The USDA keeps the samples for about two years in case they need to go back and check them for nutrient content if fish show slow growth.
This is an experimental system at the Agricultural Research Service being used to determine optimal temperature for fish growth. Twelve distribution boxes can be set at different temperatures, and each box feeds three tanks of fish.
Barramundi tanks at Australis Aquaculture headquarters. Australis helped pioneer the use of closed-containment (land-based) fish farming; its Turners Falls location is one of the largest water-recycling facilities in the world. Ninety-nine percent of the water is recycled, and fish waste is donated to local farmers. The larger fish in these pools grow to maturity before being moved to finishing tanks. The water turns over in each tank more than once per hour to maintain self-cleaning conditions.
An Australis Aquaculture fish technician checks fish several times each week. Blood is drawn to examine how water quality affects blood chemistry, which helps ensure low stress levels.
A young barramundi. Barramundi is Aboriginal for “large-scaled fish.”
This is one of 16 large biological filtration systems that each filter between 3 million and 9 million gallons of water per day in the Australis Aquaculture farm. This one supports a group of “nursery” tanks.
Tadpole-size hatchlings in the “A” or Adelaide stage tanks at Australis Aquaculture headquarters in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. Each tank contains approximately 30,000 fish. The farm produces up to 2 million pounds of fish per year.
Juvenile barramundi are graded and sorted. Screens are used to sort the fish into like-sized groups a few times a week. This is key to reducing cannibalism, one of the major challenges of farming barramundi.
Workers harvest live barramundi for transport. They are shipped in climate-controlled trucks that maintain temperatures around 72 degrees. Australis Aquaculture sells mainly to the live-fish markets that serve Chinese restaurants.
McFarland Springs trout just arrived at sustainable fish distributor TwoXSea in San Francisco after making the road trip from the fish farm where they grow in the Sierra Nevada. The farm’s extremely cold water supply comes from the natural spring headwaters of the Susan River in Northern California. These pristine waters are free of the pesticides and contaminants often found in water sources. TwoXSea also uses this springwater to generate hydroelectric power to supply all of the farm’s electricity.
Kenny Belov (left) of TwoXSea fillets a trout for delivery to a client at the company’s facility on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. TwoXSea ensures that its wild fish can be traced back to the vessel that caught them or the farm that raised or harvested them, guaranteeing the honest origin of the fish. Belov has built relationships with fishermen who are fishing healthy stocks the right way and pays them a premium for their catch.
A whole McFarland Springs trout next to a fillet at TwoXSea. McFarland Springs trout are raised on a 100 percent vegetarian diet, and their omega-3 levels are higher than those of wild salmon.
The McFarland Springs trout sandwich at Fish, the Sausalito, California, restaurant where Kenny Belov and Bill Foss are partners.
West Coast oysters at TwoXSea fish distributors. TwoXSea stays as close to home as possible when sourcing its suppliers and receives three to four oyster deliveries every week, depending on the farm and the distance.