The Coulee region of Wisconsin might be far from the Atlantic Ocean, but recently it has become home to some of the freshest salmon in the country. Superior Fresh, located in Hixton, is the first and largest indoor salmon farm in the United States. Its 1-acre fish house produces 160,000 pounds of Atlantic salmon and steelhead each year, with more capacity to come. It’s a good thing, too, with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimating that a growing global population will eat nearly 30 million tons of fish by 2030, with 50% of the world’s fish coming from farms.
Hatch and Harvest
Getting fresh, healthy fish to market takes time, close monitoring and, for Superior Fresh, a commitment to sustainable practices.
The fish arrive at the farm as eggs. After a couple of weeks of incubation, they hatch and then are moved into first-feed tanks, where they begin swimming against the current. About six months later, they move to the smolt stage through a process in which the amount of light they receive is controlled, mimicking winter. One year after hatching, the fish weigh about 1 pound and are moved to the grow-out tank to continue growing for another year. Once the fish reach 10 pounds, they are harvested by hand.
See more: Water Works: Wisconsin Aquaculture
“Our Atlantic salmon take two years to reach harvest size from the time they arrive at our facility as eggs,” says Brandon Gottsacker, president of Superior Fresh. “These fish are finicky and require the highest standards of animal welfare and husbandry, pristine water and environmental conditions, and around-the-clock monitoring of various environmental parameters, such as oxygen and water temperature, and responding accordingly to alarms at all hours of the day and night. Maintaining biosecurity at our farm is crucial to keeping our fish healthy and avoiding ubiquitous diseases that occur in the Wisconsin soils and surface waters.”
That commitment to quality practices and sustainability means healthy food for consumers. It starts with the fish’s diet, which at Superior Fresh is rich in fish meal and fish oil harvested from certified sustainable fishers and organically produced grains. The fish are contaminant-free because no antibiotics, pesticides or hormones are used on the farm and the fish aren’t exposed to the pollutants that can occur in rivers and oceans. Plus, the Atlantic salmon are high in omega-3s, making them some of the healthiest fish to eat.
Fresh and Farm-Raised
According to the Wisconsin Aquaculture Association, salmon is just one of the fish species raised successfully in the state. Trout, yellow perch, bluegill, walleye and northern pike are others. The association is a resource for potential producers as they navigate the challenges, risks and rewards of aquaculture.
For Superior Fresh, the rewards have been great. Just two years after their first harvest, they are already planning an expansion of their fish house from 1 acre to 2.5 acres, to bring future production up to 1.5 million pounds annually. The aquaponics portion of the farm also will be doubling. In the aquaponic system, the water from the fish is filtered to remove waste and turns into nitrate-rich water. That water is then circulated from the fish house to the greenhouse, where the plants (Superior Fresh also grows organic leafy greens) absorb the nutrients – and then the clean water returns to the fish house.
Get the recipe: Cedar-Plank Salmon With Roasted Vegetables
Sustainability is at the heart of that progress, Gottsacker explains. “Using sustainable methods to produce food is not an option, it’s a necessity,” he says. “To feed the increased population demand, all forms of farming must improve their practices and conserve as many natural resources as possible. By bringing our fish farm on land and indoors, we are able to protect the ocean environment, produce more fish with less land, and provide consumers with local, healthy seafood.”
Another added benefit is the freshness that staying local provides. “Instead of shipping in seafood across the world, our fish are available at local grocery stores and restaurants no farther than a couple hundred miles from where it was raised and harvested,” Gottsacker says.