Ken Beer: Fish Farmer

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Photo by Barbara Douglass
Fish farmer Ken Beer brings in the "harvest."

Not far from Sacramento, California, a fish farmer raises his “crop” in an unusual 16-pond facility. Ken Beer operates The Fishery Catfish, Sturgeon, and Striped Bass Hatchery. (It was called the Elk Grove-Florin Catfish Farm until recently, when striped bass and sturgeon were added to the stock.)

The hatchery’s busy catfish season begins in the spring, when Beer transfers adults to the brood ponds so the females can lay their eggs in secluded pipes designed to facilitate the removal of the crop. The eggs are then placed in special troughs, developed by Ken, which incorporate a clean flow of water and rotating fins to simulate the tail-fanning action of the adult males that — in the wild — keeps the eggs aerated. When the young fish hatch, they’re moved to a pond that’s covered with a layer of oil to discourage insect predators. Later, Beer must employ scare tactics to prevent gulls and herons from preying on the livestock.

Ken “grows out” (raises until they reach maturity) most of the farm’s supply of catfish. The hatchery’s “cat” stock currently totals about 100,000 pounds, and customers purchase an average of 1,000-2,000 pounds per week. (At present, there isn’t enough pond space to grow out the sturgeon and striped bass, which are generally sold as fingerlings.) Folks are also invited to bring a packed lunch to the farm and spend a whole day fishing or just enjoying the land- and waterscape. There’s no charge for the hospitality … but, of course, if you’re to haul in a catch, you’ll be asked a per-pound fee. Visitors who are either unsuccessful or pressed for time can opt to have their fish netted from one of the hatchery’s two holding tanks.

Beer, who has an undergraduate degree in forest biology and a master’s degree in aquaculture, believes that fish breeding and cultivation could play a vital role in solving our overpopulated planet’s problem of protein deficiency. “We’re talking about a food that’s high in protein, low in fat and calories, and delicious,” he says. “The future of fish farming looks particularly bright.”