The Urban Aquaculture Center (UAC), a new WAA member from Milwaukee, proposes this question to members: “Why not farm fish in urban areas”? The UAC is hoping to bring Milwaukee into the Twenty-First Century in terms of fish production with a proposed large-scale production and educational facility that will also provide innovative solutions to several environmental problems involved with the fish market.
There are many reasons the urban agriculture movement in Milwaukee supports this approach: growing fish indoors is a highly productive and secure means for producing fish at a time when the security of our food supply is a major concern. Aquaculture is a growth industry with the potential to alleviate health concerns with wild caught fish. It also addresses the U.S. seafood trade deficit that in dollar value is second only to oil.
We know that the fish harvested from the Great Lakes does not satisfy demand, and commercial yields of fish from many areas are substantially below historic levels. Demand continues to rise, and it is clear that aquaculture must grow with the demand. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations informs us that compared to Asia’s contribution to the world’s aquaculture of over 90 percent, all of North America contributes less than 2 percent.
Recent articles suggest that as a nation, we are not taking full advantage of the aquaculture research being produced by our excellent research institutions. The Great Lakes WATER Institute in Milwaukee is a leading research center for growing yellow perch and sturgeon, and the transfer of technology for commercial production is encouraged, with new approaches welcomed by governmental agencies and educational institutions involved in this research and charged with its dissemination.
In Milwaukee, the Urban Aquaculture Center is working to expand the industry using an approach that engages the community. The UAC hopes to have the City of Milwaukee lead the growth of urban aquaculture in the United States. To address the problem of the risk involved in start-up operations, the UAC seeks to have all of Milwaukee take on urban aquaculture as a new industry. This project requires the cooperation of all stakeholders — government, academia, and local businesses. What the UAC proposes is a large-scale perch production facility and an education center for the public, oriented to urban agriculture, particularly aquaculture.
Milwaukee is uniquely positioned for this endeavor for two primary reasons: its proximity to fresh water and to Growing Power, an urban teaching farm growing edible plants with fish in the same system. The Great Lakes WATER Institute and Growing Power are conducting tests on the ability of plants, worms and bacteria to remediate water in a perch grow-out system. The results thus far are encouraging. Adult perch have done well in a greenhouse environment with only a pump to move water to gravel beds containing plants and beneficial nitrifying bacteria. This system, which closely mimics nature, shows promise.
There is more preliminary work to be done. Proper design, analysis, and implementation of an urban fish farm are necessary to insure its success. This means a thorough feasibility study is needed by the stakeholders, including the public. At all levels, a government’s commitment to provide increased support to the aquaculture sector is a prerequisite for the sector’s sustainable development. Farming fish as an urban enterprise needs to be developed with the best management practices available. The UAC has been deliberate about assembling a board of directors with the talent and drive necessary to realize a possible $20 million center. Its initial goal is to conduct such a feasibility study.
The mission of the UAC includes preparing citizens to learn to live in a sustainable way through educational exhibits and community demonstrations on urban aquaculture and its global benefits. As a social enterprise, the UAC wants to become a destination attraction and develop a five-acre campus to house a research and education center, a production facility, a restaurant and fish market.
By Jon Bales
Published in June 2008 edition of The Creel – Wisconsin Aquaculture Association