Florida Indoor Fish Farm: An Aquaculture Alternative

A few groceries have been offering delicacies like elk steaks for decades, at least. But the odds are that hunters aren’t supplying your grocery’s meat department with wild game.

That’s not surprising, or shouldn’t be.

I’ll be talking about an indoor Florida fish farm, wild raspberries, chickens, and why genetically modified foods don’t fill me with fear and foreboding.


Life After the Neolithic Revolution

My ancestors were hunting for food until a little less than an millennium back.

But even then, they were also planting crops and raising livestock.

Somewhere along the line, hunting morphed into a recreation reserved for the upper crust. Which gave us some of the Robin Hood tales, and that’s another topic.

Folks started collecting and eating wild grains upwards of 100,000 years back. Then, around the time when Saharan forests and prairies were drying out, someone developed artificial plants.

Several someones, judging from the way crops like barley, lentils and flax popped up in at least five parts of Eurasia and the Americas. V. Gordon Childe called that transition the Neolithic Revolution in 1936, and the name caught on.

Oddly enough, I’ve yet to see claims that Sumerians caused the end of civilization as they knew it by growing wheat.

Or that Egypt’s parliament should pay reparation for desertification happening during Pharaoh Narmer’s administration. Never mind that the process started before folks living in the Luan River valley were making fine pottery.1

Now, about artificial organisms. Like chickens.

Wild Raspberries

'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!' (1978)Thanks to my father’s taste for what he called “wild raspberries,” I know what real “raspberries” taste like.

I’m not entirely convinced that the tiny red berry-things he found in parts of northern Minnesota are actually a wild form of the European red raspberry.

But they look like farm-grown raspberries.

I’ve eaten both. The store-bought things have the same taste, and are much larger. But they’re also, well, insipid. Pale echoes of the wild variety.

The impression I get is that commercially-grown raspberries have the same amount of flavor per berry.

And since they’re so much larger, the flavor’s spread over more volume. Too much more, for my taste. But then, I’ve eaten the wild variety. Those pumped-up store-bought things just can’t compete.

My guess is that most Americans have never eaten “wild raspberries,” so they don’t know what they’re missing.

And many may never have eaten anything other than genetically modified foods.

Rimshot's photo of a Vorwerk chicken. (2009)Take chickens, for example.

There is, arguably, no such thing as a “non-genetically-modified” chicken.

Sure, the red junglefowl was and is native to parts of south and southeast Asia.

Those birds look like domestic chickens. Some domestic chickens.

Mainly because domestic chickens are what happened after folks started modifying red junglefowl and assorted other species.2

Attack of the Acronyms

I know that “GMOs” are — for some — a terrifying new threat to life, liberty and the status quo.

And I think that “new” isn’t always “better.”

On the other hand, I don’t think “new” is always apocalyptic.

I also suspect that unfamiliar acronyms like ACCA, CRAC and ASHRAE can be scary. So maybe sharing what GMO, TALEN and ELISA mean will help.

In any case, I enjoy learning what terms mean. You experience may vary, but I’ll go ahead with definitions anyway.

“GMO” is an acronym meaning “genetically modified organism.”

But a GMO isn’t just any old genetically modified organism.

A GMO is a critter we’ve modified with new genetic engineering technology.

And now, more acronyms:

  • Gene-modifying tools
    • CRISPR
      • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat
    • TALEN
      • Transcription Activator-Like Effectors Nuclease
  • Gene testing tools
    • ELISA
      • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
    • PCR
      • Polymerase Chain Reaction
    • RT-PCR
      • Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction

Finally, please: relax. There won’t be a test on this. There’s no need to memorize words and alphabet soup like immunosorbent and RT-PCR.3

“Finally?” No, not really. But that’s (almost) all the acronyms I’ll use. Today.

Assumptions and Atomic Nazi Zombies

Barth F. Smets/Barkay/Colvin's Tree of Life with horizontal gene transfer.I’d like to see folks relaxing about GMOs.

That’s relaxing, not either blindly assuming that eating all the chicken we like is okay because chickens are modified organisms; or that mRNA vaccines and other newfangled biotech must be Satanic because it’s unnatural.

Or simply because it’s new.

I talked about mRNA vaccines, viewpoints, ethical issues and making sense when Moderna’s and Phizer’s were nearly ready for production. (December 5, 2020)

As I see it, “making sense” includes testing new tech. Whether it’s biotech or a kerosene lamp. (August 11, 2017)

Testing a new strain of oats or a new dog breed, for example, probably makes sense.

After all, we wouldn’t want hideously mutated oatmeal monsters attacking the General Mills headquarters in Golden Valley, Minnesota. Or unexpectedly-intelligent American Hairless Terriers demanding Federal regulation of dog sweaters.

Lobby card for Cahn and Siodmak's 'Creature with the Atom Brain.' (1955)Or a mad scientist’s GMO sorghum beer leading to a plague of atomic Nazi zombies. A threat which may have been more marketable in 1955, and that’s yet another topic.

I’d be considerably more angsty about GMOs, TALEN, CRISPR and atomic zombies if I didn’t remember horrifically horrible horrors of my youth. And hadn’t read about Joseph, Laban and Laban’s modified livestock.

Another reason I’m not railing against the evils of genetic engineering is that mixing and matching genes has been going on for a very long time. It’s called “horizontal gene transfer,” and explains how fungal genes help pea aphids hide from predators.4


Meanwhile, in Florida

An indoor fish farm. Image copyright Aquamaof, via BBC News, used w/o permission.
(From Aquamaof, via BBC News; used w/o permission.)

Finally — that’s my third “finally” today, in case you’re keeping score — here’s what started me talking about groceries and Sumerians, chickens and GMOs.

The salmon you buy in the future may be farmed on land
Dan Gibson, BBC Business News (April 25, 2021)

In a series of indoor tanks 40 miles south west of Miami, Florida, five million fish are swimming in circles a very long way from home.

“The fish in question are Atlantic salmon, which are far more typically found in the cold waters of Norway’s fjords or Scotland’s lochs.

“As the species is not native to Florida, and would be unable to cope with the state’s tropical heat, the water tanks are kept well chilled, and housed in a vast, air-conditioned and heavily insulated warehouse-like building.

“The facility, called the Bluehouse, opened its first phase last year, and intends to be the world’s largest land-based fish farm….”

An indoor salmon farm in Florida may not be the strangest point in Dan Gibson’s article.

Bluehouse’s owner is Atlantic Sapphire, an Norwegian-owned business.

So how come a Norwegian business owns an indoor Florida fish farm?

Atlantic Sapphire folks think selling salmon to Americans will cost less if the fish aren’t flown across the Atlantic. They picked the Florida location in part because that’s where there’s access to a fresh water and a salt water aquifer. Makes sense to me.

So does the quality-control angle.

A Sinister Salmon Setting?

Energy-efficient closed-loop water recycling system for indoor fish farm.
(From Atlantic Sapphire, used w/o permission.)

The Florida fish farm’s salmon live in a closed-loop system. Water temperature and pH, day-night cycles, everything is ideal for the salmon.

It’s ‘unnatural’ — so the fish aren’t exposed to diseases and parasites. Which means that fish from the Florida farm won’t need or contain antibiotics and pesticides.

And, since the cost of Bluehouse brand salmon in American groceries doesn’t include air freight, it costs about half what we’d pay for Norwegian imports. On the other hand, Florida Bluehouse salmon won’t include free bonus protein — roundworms.5

Obviously, something is very wrong here. From tediously familiar viewpoints.


Abolish Fish Farms! Freedom For Fish!?

Bluehouse Florida fish farm, image copyright Smart Studio.
(From Smart Studio, via BBC News; used w/o permission.)
(Salmon swimming against an artificial current.)

“‘Fish farms [whether at sea, or on land] are pits of filth,’ says Dawn Carr, Peta’s director of vegan corporate projects. ‘Fish are not fish fingers with fins, waiting to be cut apart, but feeling, thinking individuals capable of joy and pain, and they belong to themselves, not to humans.

“‘Raising fish this way is wretchedly cruel and certainly unnecessary.’…”
(Dan Gibson, BBC Business News (April 25, 2021)

I wouldn’t expect, or try, to convince someone of the ‘fish are people too’ persuasion that raising disease-free, sans-roundworm salmon is not “wretchedly cruel.”

And PETA’s vegan corporate projects director almost has a point. Since humans are omnivores, we can get by without meat.

A few of us, including one of my kinsmen, can’t eat meat; or shouldn’t. For medical reasons. And that’s yet again another topic.

But trying to believe that a large opportunistic omnivore6 shouldn’t eat meat, along with plant products? That doesn’t make sense. Not to me.

Experiencing Emotions, Being Rational

Non Sequtur's Church of Danae and faith-based physics. From Wiley Miller, used w/o permission.Since a fair number of folks see Christians as anything but reasonable — and some Christians seem dedicated to maintaining that image — explanations may be in order.

Again.

I’ve gone over this a lot. But I also run into the attitude(s) a lot, so here goes.

I’m a Catholic, so I think faith and reason get along. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 35, 154159)

Should get along.

I have free will. Deciding what I do, or don’t do, is up to me. (Catechism, 1730, 1778, 1804, 2339)

Within limits. I can’t, for example, decide to flap my arms and fly to the moon. I can, actually, but I won’t achieve liftoff.

Using my brain is, however, an option. Not an obligation, like breathing. Actually, it is an obligation, since I’m Catholic, and I’m straying off-topic.

I’m human, so I’m a “rational animal.” (Catechism, 1951)

And since I’m human, I experience emotions.

They’re part of a package that’s “very good.” But that doesn’t make all, or any, emotions “good.” Emotions aren’t “good” or “bad” by themselves. What I decide to do about an emotion? That’s where “good” or “bad” comes in. (Genesis 1:2731; Catechism, 1763, 1767)

Dominion

John Leech's cartoon: 'How to Insure Against Railway Accidents. Tie a couple of Directors à la Mazeppa to every engine that starts a train.' Punch (March 26, 1853)
(From Punch, via Victorian Web, used w/o permission.)

Earth, seen from the Rosetta spacecraft.Since I’m a Catholic, I think that we have dominion over this world.

And since I’m a Catholic, I do not think “dominion” means poisoning the land while ripping crusts of bread from the bleeding lips of the oppressed proletariat.

Whether or not anyone still talks that way — is still another topic.

Since I’m a Catholic, I think “dominion” is having the authority and responsibility that comes with one of our jobs: taking care of our home, and leaving it in good working order for future generations. (Genesis 1:26, 2:58; Catechism, 16, 339, 356358, 2402, 24152418, 2456)

Animals

William Hogarth's 'The Second Stage of Cruelty, detail. (1751)Treating animals humanely is an ancient idea. (Exodus 23:12; Deuteronomy 25:4; Proverbs 12:10; 1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18)

Mistreating animals is a bad idea.

That’s because, besides being animals, we’re people: made “in the image of God.” Our nature comes with responsibilities: like not inflicting needless death and suffering on animals. That said, loving animals the way we (should) love people is also a bad idea. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 355, 361368, 17011709, 1951, 2418, 24152418)

Respecting “the integrity of creation” makes sense. So does making reasoned, measured use of animals, plants and mineral resources. We’re stewards of this world, and responsible for handing off its resources to future generations. (Catechism, 24152418)

None of which comes even close to calling for piscine self-determination.


Hunting and Gathering’s Last Bastion

Global capture fisheries/aquaculture production, 2000-2018; from FAO's Statistical Yearbook 2020.
(From FAO, via Wikimedia Commons; used w/o permission.)
(World fish production: old-school capture and aquaculture, 2000-2018. FAO (2020))

David Roberts' 'Ancient Fountain:' a Persian water-wheel, used for irrigation in Nubia. (1838)Fish hatcheries existed in my youth, and zoos/aquariums were learning how to maintain healthy environments for fish.

But harvesting fish for food was almost entirely a ‘hunting and gathering’ activity.

I’d wondered how long it would take for the fishing industry to start catching up with the Neolithic Revolution. And now I’m learning that the process has begun.

Aquaculture isn’t a new idea, it goes back at least six and a half millennia.

But 97% of today’s cultured fish species were “domesticated” during the 20th and 21st centuries.

Whether they’re “domesticated” in the sense that Leghorns are domesticated chickens, that I don’t know. I’m also not sure whether “cultured” and “domesticated” mean the same thing.

I’m more certain that transitioning away from ‘hunting’ fish has been happening in part because we’ve been running out of wild fish.

And Atlantic Sapphire’s Florida fish farm’s profit potential grew because the COVID-19 pandemic has been playing hob with supply chains.7

One of these days, I’ll probably dig into details of how we’ve been transitioning away from my civilization’s last non-recreational bastion of our hunting and gathering roots. But not today. Or, likely enough, not this month.

More of how I see animals, being human and making sense:


1 Putting food on the table:

2 Poultry, naturally:

3 Acronyms and long words:

4 Genetics, mostly:

5 Parasites, seafood’s bonus(?) protein:

6 It’s who; or, rather, what we are:

7 Fish (and a chicken):

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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