After a recent visit to Bell Aquaculture's farm and facilities in Redkey, Indiana, we've explored the company's vertically integrated model--which includes an organic fertilizer made from processing plant offcuts and an onsite fish feed mill. But the company's core product is, of course, fish.
Bell started by farming yellow perch, a local favorite for Friday fish fries, taking note of the significant drop in yellow perch population in the Great Lakes region due to overfishing and environmental stress. In the late 1960s, regional fishermen commercially harvested about 38 million pounds of yellow perch from the Great Lakes, compared to about 11 million pounds today, Bell Aquaculture CEO Norman McCowan told us. Most of this total is harvested from Lake Erie, which spans more than 4,000 square miles.
"If you choose to grow ... the yellow perch, indoors you can [grow 11 million pounds] in about 7 acres in a controlled environment," McCowan said. When you think about feeding a growing population in a resource constrained world, that's pretty tough to beat.
Rather than pumping fish full of antibiotics, Bell uses mostly sodium chloride (or salt, for us non-scientific types), as well as hydrogen peroxide for injured fish. Bell also keeps its fish healthy through the use of a closed system called a Recirculating Aquatic System (RAS), which consists of segregated tanks that filter and recirculate water. The company is able to recycle more than 99 percent of the 300,000 gallons of water it uses for its tanks. All that remains is pumped into a fully-functioning wetlands out back, where it settles through the aquifer and then back into the system.
Another perk of Bell's highly controlled system is that it allows for 100 percent transparency. To take things a step further, Bell actually set up a Web portal where buyers and other stakeholders can sign in and 'peer inside' fish tanks and examine the health of the fish, its growing condition and when it will be ready for harvest, McCowan said.
You can find Bell's fish at restaurants in Indianapolis and Chicago. It is also distributed by Fortune Fish in Chicago and Samuels & Sons in New York City and the East Coast. The company plans to phase out yellow perch this year and begin farming rainbow trout and coho salmon. Regardless of the type of fish, it's tough to ignore the passion Bell's employees have for the business and its role in developing a more sustainable food system.
"The future of fish is farming it," said Greg Scotnicki, Bell's sales director, "and it's no secret when you talk to people in the industry that the only way we're going to be able to keep up with the population and supply them with a good protein source is going to be with fish. So, it was kind of a no brainer to come to work for Bell and help put the whole story together."
Stay tuned for more coverage from our trip–including an inside look at Bell’s closed loop water recycling system–coming soon on TriplePundit.
Mary Mazzoni has reported on sustainability in business for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling. Along with 3p, Mary's recent work can be found in publications like Conscious Company, Salon and Vice's Motherboard. She also works with nonprofits on media projects, including the women's entrepreneurship coaching organization Street Business School. She is an alumna of Temple University in Philadelphia and lives in the city with her partner and two spoiled dogs.