Aquaculture is growing more common in Michigan

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For most seafood consumers, where their fish comes from may be a mystery. Russell Allen, a small business owner in Okemos, is on a mission to end the mystery for consumers.

Ideally fish would come from a supplier who catches them naturally, by fishing. But more often than not, commercially sold fish are grown on fish farms, an industry known as aquaculture.

Check the internet today and you will find many people against this practice, but ask someone who knows and you may get some totally different answers.

“Aquaculture is a younger industry than chickens or pigs or cattle so people are still learning,” said Russell Allen, a fish seller and longtime aquaculturist. “If you go and are logical about what you buy and where it comes from, there’s good places and bad places.”

Allen is the owner of Farm Fresh Seafood, a seafood market in Okemos. Allen and his business promote the idea of quality farm fishing and proudly sell fish that is farmed in Michigan.

“Our goal is to educate people on how farm raised fish really is good,” said Allen.

The mission statement for his store proudly claims transparency for the customers so that they know exactly the kind of fish they are consuming. Allen said he first got into the aquaculture business because of the negative environmental impacts of naturally catching shrimp.

“I know there’s been a lot of bad talk about farm raised fish but there’s way more good farm raised fish,” said Allen.

The main driving force behind aquaculture is to find ways to prevent overfishing and sustain the seafood industry.

“The majority of fisheries that are wild are unsustainable,” said Allen. “The only way to maintain eating fish which is the least stressful on the environment is to grow more fish.”

The term aquaculture may sometimes carries a negative connotation for those who do not know a lot about the industry and can scare people away.

“It kind of sounds disgusting,” said Raven Jones, a Meridian resident. “I’d rather have fish that came from a real river or ocean.”

Some consumers give little to no thought about where their fish comes from, and may be turned off to find out that it isn’t always the ocean.

“I feel like it wouldn’t be as good,” said Meridian resident Kyle Parcel, “Like it may not be as safe to eat either.”

Although some internet blogs claim that farm raised fish doesn’t taste as good as wild caught fish, studies show only a very subtle difference. Even Allen admits that wild caught fish has leaner meat, but assures that only a expert could taste the difference.

At the Okemos Kroger, wild caught and farm raised fish are sold side by side.

“We sell both kinds, a wide variety of farm raised stuff but we also have a lot of wild caught fish too,” said Michael Woodworth, a meat and fish specialist at Kroger. “People tend to like the wild caught fish better, and they’ll pay more for it.”

In countries with little to no regulations on aquaculture, fish may be grown in pens pumped full of chemicals, and idea that scares off most consumers. Allen assures that this is not the case.

“There’s been all kinds of talk about the use of antibiotics and pesticides, but here in the United States that’s against the law,” said Allen “There isn’t anything approved to use for that.”

Farm Fresh Seafood has a partnership with the Indian Brook Trout Farm, a fish supplier in Jackson. The farm is a locally owned by Owen Ballow, a long time aquaculturist. Like Allen, Ballow and his team are proponents of aquaculture in Michigan.

“The very specific reasons why aquaculture is the fastest growing segment of agriculture, is No. 1, wild caught fisheries can’t support our future demand,” said Ballow.

Ballow and his business supply over 3,000 businesses around Michigan. Their fish is grown on site and delivered every day. Ballow is a veteran of the aquaculture industry and aims to help consumers understand its necessity.

“If we were running out of cattle, the only way to make sure we maintained enough would be to domesticate them. And it’s the same with fish,” said Ballow.

Fish farms like the Indian Brook Trout Farm are set up on land and cause no damage to the environment because their fish pens do not affect an already existing ecosystem. Net-pen farming occurs when fish pens are placed in a naturally formed body of water. This type of aquaculture is a topic of debate for environmentalists right now on the internet, specifically about the Great Lakes.

Fish farming in the Great Lakes was first started by Canadian Gord Cole in 1982. At the time it was a revolutionary idea that developed into a multi-billion dollar industry. Despite the success, the only known fish pens are in Canadian waters.

“There are fisheries in the lakes but they’re all in Canadian waters and they’re not huge facilities,” said Ballow. “They’ve been monitored for 15 years and as far as we can tell they’re not doing any major damage to the environment.”

According to Ballow, there are other socioeconomic factors that make Canada better for the net-pen farming. There are no people or businesses along the coast where the pens are located. The Michigan coasts are much more populated, and so more people would be affected by the pens.

Advocates against these pens claim that they would inhibit recreational use in the lakes and create too much waste in the water. Fortunately, the U.S. has regulations in place that prohibit any net-pen farming for this reason.

“All of the guidelines for the U.S. state that when you raise fish you have to be able to control all of the fish waste, and you can’t collect any of the waste in the net-pen system,” said Ballow. “To me it doesn’t matter if people think it’s good or bad, unless federal regulations change it won’t be permitted to happen.”

It is unlikely that regulations will ever change to allow for net-pen farming in the Great Lakes. This is good, the strict regulations in place are what make U.S. farm raised fish safe to eat.

“Farm raised fish are really specific to a geography on whether they’re good or not,” said Ballow. Ballow is a firm believer that we should end the stigma against consuming farm raised fish.

Allen also assures his customers not to be afraid of aquaculture.

“What you get in Michigan and what you get in this store has all been testified, certified and is good,” said Allen.



Owen Ballow

Russell Allen

Michael Woodworth

Raven Jones

Kyle Parcel


What you need to know about farm-raised vs. wild-caught fish

Rachel Nania –


Michigan’s Growing Threat: Fish Farming in the Great Lakes & Tributaries

Posted on November 19, 2016 by FLOW Editor – Reports & Media Releases –


The Center for Michigan | Bridge Magazine. (2015, September 09). Battle brewing over fish farming in Great Lakes. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from

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