Researchers in Green Bay hope to reduce the cost of Wisconsin's traditional Friday night fish fry by working with The Farmory — a local nonprofit based in downtown Green Bay — to set up breeding tanks for the popular yellow perch, which is becoming hard to find in the wild.
Ken Webb, a research associate at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, is taking on the difficult task of setting up the tanks for The Farmory. He said yellow perch are hard to raise in captivity. Many fish farms raise perch in outdoor ponds, but Webb said most larvae die within 30 days whether from predation or disease.
Instead of outdoor ponds, these yellow perch will be bred and raised indoors in tanks that look like hot tubs.
"Once this facility is closed in and sealed, we will have a bio-secure fish stock," Webb said. "When fish come out of here I will be able to certify it, that for the the past 10 generations, or however long it's been, there has been no disease in this building."
The idea is to sell small fingerlings — or juvenile fish — to fish farmers who will then raise them to eating size. The Farmory hopes to be selling their nonprofit-grown fish by early next year.
Webb was also proud to report that the perch grown at The Farmory will actually be yellow perch, versus what he referred to as an imported knock-off.
"It will mean that when you go to a perch fry you will probably actually get yellow perch. Because right now if you 'value shop' your fish fry, you are more than likely not getting yellow perch," he said.
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Besides a hoped-for price reduction and quality increase, the project is aimed at getting young people and other volunteers involved in locally-sourced food.
Claire Thompson, The Farmory’s executive director, said the fish facility could have been built anywhere, but their nonprofit chose to put it in a vacant building downtown to build interest among Green Bay's younger generations.
"There is a tremendous need for the youth of our community to think about agricultural careers, manufacturing careers, high tech careers," Thompson said. "This is a perfect opportunity to display in full force how those three things can come together in an urban environment."
Thompson added that the fish will be sustainable and that, "people really crave a connection to local food."
The Farmory hopes to raise $125,000 by the end of the year for the project. And to begin selling yellow perch fingerlings in early 2019.
More than 60 volunteers work at The Farmory, some of whom are working off community service or school credits. Thompson said she hopes they come away with skills or interest in a future career centered on local food and sustainability.