January 19, 2017

"GROWING PROTEIN":

The bizarre and inspiring story of Iowa's fish farmers (Maddie Oatman, 1/19/17, Mother Jones)

Their neighbors raise hogs and cattle, sow soybeans, and tend pumpkin patches and orchards now sagging with apples. But five years ago, the Nelsons--a third-­generation Iowa farming family--turned to raising fish. Hundreds of thousands of silvery barramundi, to be precise. Part of a hearty species that's roughly the size of coho salmon and has flesh the flavor of red snapper, the Nelsons' barramundi start their lives in their native Australia. Seventeen days after spawning, they are flown in plastic bags of water to central Iowa, where they spend their adolescence swimming against a current pulsing through rectangular tanks on the Nelsons' farm. Barramundi easily tolerate many environments and have a flexible diet, attributes that led Time in 2011 to call them "just about perfect" as a farmed species. Once the fish reach nearly two pounds, they'll be shipped live to seafood markets and restaurants across the country, or filleted, flash-frozen, and sent to food distributors like Sysco.

The Nelsons' operation is so intriguing that in 2014, a pair of Canadian investors named Keith Driver and Leslie Wulf acquired it, changing the name to VeroBlue Farms. (Vero means "true" in Latin.) With the Nelsons still in charge of the day-to-day operations, VeroBlue aims to become North America's biggest land-based fish farm and the largest domestic producer of barramundi, raising as much as 10 million pounds every year--more than twice as much as anyone else.

Some scientists and ocean advocates believe we need more fish farms like this one: A 2015 World Wildlife Fund report revealed that half of all marine vertebrates have been wiped out since 1970 because of pollution, climate change, and industrial fishing. According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, about 30 percent of the world's wild stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels, and research by acclaimed French marine biologist Daniel Pauly suggests the real figure could be more like 45 percent.

That's prompted experts at the US Nation¬≠al Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Health and Human Services' Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to embrace farmed varieties. "If responsibly developed and practiced, aquaculture can generate lasting benefits for global food security and economic growth," the director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization declared in 2014. "Here in Iowa, they know how to grow protein," Driver, the president of VeroBlue, recently told a group of investors. "That's all we're doing--growing protein." 

Posted by at January 19, 2017 5:41 AM

  

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