It’s no secret that wild-caught seafood is fraught, what with its declining supply and associations with inhumane labor practices. Many tout farmed fish as a more ethical and sustainable (not to mention cheaper) way to satisfy our seafood cravings, which is why aquaculture is the fastest growing food-producing sector. In fact, as of 2016, aquaculture produced half of all fish for human consumption.

While aquaculture doesn’t lead to overfishing of limited ocean resources, it can have other unsavory consequences. Farmed fish produce a lot of waste (AKA fish poop), and can sometimes cause chemicals to leak into our drinking water.

And then there’s the fish food. Often, farmed fish are fed pellets of corn, soy, unwanted chicken parts, or even fish meal. Sometimes people even catch smaller, less popular fish from the ocean and grind them up to feed their farmed bretheren. Obviously, it takes a lot of energy and environmental resources to create all this fish food, and even more to filter out waste from fish enclosures.

TimberFish Technologies‘ eponymous technology promises to offer a more palatable alternative to aquaculture. The company launched in 2008 and have so far raised or won $260K, which they used to build a test facility at Five & 20 Spirits & Brewing facility in Westfield New York.

There, they feed their fish not with animal parts or corn, but with a combination of nutrient-rich wastewater from food processors (such as breweries, distilleries, and wineries) and woodchips. Microbes grow on the woodchips, small invertebrates (like worms and snails) eat the microbes, and the fish eat the invertebrates. The fish poop is grub for the microbes, and the whole cycle starts again.

In addition to seafood, the TimberFish system’s only outputs are clean water and spent wood chips, which can be used as a biofuel or soil supplement. Another benefit is that TimberFish can build their aquaculture farms close to cities, shortening the supply chain and guaranteeing fresher fish.

This is obviously not as idyllic as plucking salmon from the Alaskan seas or catching trout in a mountain stream, but, as aquaculture operations go, it’s not bad. And it’s certainly cost-efficient; diverting a waste product to make it profitable.

This week TimberFish Technologies launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for their no-waste, sustainable aquaculture system. If they reach their $10,000 goal, they’ll use the funds to design plans for a larger commercial facility, which they estimate could produce 2 to 3 million pounds of fish per year.

Investment has been slow so far, but personally I hope TimberFish gets the funds it needs to keep swimming along towards its goal of creating a more sustainable agriculture.

If you’re in New England and want to learn more about blue tech and sustainable seafood, join us for our next food tech meetup in Providence, RI on July 17th!

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