Local Ocean: waste not, want not. Fish in the Hudson Valley

The second week of classes found us on the road for a tour of Local Ocean, an aquaculture system in Greenport, NY.  After reading Paul Greenberg’s Four Fish, we were excited to see fish farming in practice.  They are “the world’s first (and only) commercial zero-discharge 100% recirculating aquaculture system”, according to their website and our guide Kate.  In fact, they aren’t even connected to the sewer system and the only water they use is to replace what evaporates.  Biofilters and settling ponds eliminate various contaminants from the system, while hydroponic plants growing near the tanks use some the nutrients that would otherwise be wasted.  Even the fish that die naturally are not simply thrown away; they are collected and sold to a local company for fertilizer.

The process of growing Local Ocean fish begins with the purchase of a changing variety of saltwater juveniles (sometimes including European sea bass, striped bass, flounder, and sea bream).  These fish are then quarantined for 4-6 weeks in large holding units to reduce the chance of disease entering the system.  Since all of the water at Local Ocean remains in the system and the fish are raised in high densities (compared to the ocean), disease is a major problem.  After quarantine, the fish are then relocated to tanks where they will grow for anywhere between ten months to more than a year.  The tanks themselves are behemoths that are either rippling with the movement of thousands of fish or eerily still from the total lack of fish.  Employees work day and night to ensure that the fish remain healthy and well-fed.  And they are well-fed, eating anywhere between five and eight times a day.  The scientists, such as Kate, are essentially on-call twenty-four hours just in case a problem with the fish arises.  When the fish are fully grown, they are harvested and shipped as far as New York City, and maybe in the future, to Boston and Philadelphia.  But no further because, after all, the company is called “Local Ocean” and one of their key beliefs is that fish can be alive in the morning and staring back at you from a plate in the evening.

However, Local Ocean is always improving and expanding.  Every time they have built a new tank system, it has been better than the last in one way or another.  Recently, they have received approval for a cold-water algae system (all of their fish are currently warm-water species).  Many of the employees are scientists, researchers, and engineers who work to make fish farming even more sustainable.  After visiting Local Ocean, we have some perspective on the fish industry and local, in-land fish sustainability.  Hopefully next week’s lecture and discussion with Paul Greenberg will lend even further insight into this branch of farming and food!

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