ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Aqua culture, fish farming, can be hard on the environment, so a businessman in New England has put together an operation that's cleaner and more sustainable than most.
Susannah Lee of member station WFCR reports.
SUSANNAH LEE: He's been called a vintner of fine fish, an aqua culture guru. For over a decade, Josh Goldman has been on a mission to raise an environmentally sustainable fish on a commercial scale and make a profit.
Today he's at the helm of the largest indoor fish farm in the United States, located in landlocked western Massachusetts.
Mr. JOSH GOLDMAN (Austrailis Aquaculture): The first thing you notice you get the smell of the ocean as you walk out here. These are our holding tanks, named after Hobart, you know, as in Australia where the fish are staged prior to being harvested.
LEE: Goldman looked all over the world to find the right fish, and in the waters of Australia he found barramundi. Aussies know and love it, but this is its first U.S. appearance.
The holding tanks Goldman stands in front of roil with thousands of live plate-sized barramundi, ready to ship to retailers and restaurants. Josh Goldman is president of U.S. operations at Austrailis Aquaculture, an Australian owned company.
Mr. GOLDMAN: Welcome to Brisbane. This Brisbane tank holds about 11,000 gallons of water and there's approximately 30,000 fish in there. So think Fenway Stadium at capacity at a Red Sox game, and that's the number of fish that's in each tank in the building.
LEE: Construction underway at Austrailis will almost double production to about 40,000 pounds of fish per week. Many chefs and restaurateurs are taking notice, comparing the buttery white fish to the coveted and overfished Chilean sea bass.
But taste wasn't the only thing that attracted Goldman to the barramundi. He needed a fish whose overall performance was so good it would offset energy costs of the indoor system. Those costs are higher than those of pond or coastal farming.
Mr. GOLDMAN: We were looking for a species that at a production level had a lot of favorable attributes. We could reproduce it on a year-round basis. It would make use of feed far more efficiently than existing species.
LEE: Barramundi don't need to eat as many little fish as other farmed marine fish in order to grow. So these barramundi are virtually free of contaminants like mercury or PCBs. And they're high in Omega-3 fatty acids. No hormones, no antibiotics are used, and 99 percent of the water is cycled back into the closed system.
But will U.S. consumers try a new fish? The venture recently gained a key ally at the Food Channel.
(Soundbite of show, "Iron Chef")
Mr. MARK DACASCOS (Host, "Iron Chef America"): This is Iron Chef America. Today's secret ingredient is barramundi.
LEE: Sustainably grown seafood is steadily moving from a niche concept to the mainstream. That's according to Howard Johnson, a seafood industry analyst. He points to recent decisions by some giant retailers, like Wal-Mart, to purchase only fish certified as sustainably grown.
Mr. HOWARD JOHNSON (Seafood Industry Analyst): And they do that, I think, for a couple of reasons. One is there's clearly consumer interest growing in sustainability, but also it's in their best interest to make sure that they're sourcing seafood that, you know, is going to be available into the future.
LEE: Austrailis Aquaculture probably won't be producing quantities to satisfy Wal-Mart in the near future. But large retailers throughout the Northeast are stocking barramundi. Austrailis hopes the trend will continue west.
For NPR News, I'm Susannah Lee.
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