When Kelly Haugen and Erica Tardiff first met James Iacino, Executive Chairman of Seattle Fish Company, they were CSU students with a vision to create a positive global impact on biodiversity and aquaculture. Two years later, with the help of a grant from SFC, they’ve developed that vision into a company, Nobilis Aqua, and recently launched their first product, The Nobilis Aqua Growout (Trout) Feed.
The Nobilis Aqua Growout Feed is formulated on a foundation of responsibly-sourced invasive Asian Carp meal. After many rounds of research and development, they’ve simplified the feed down to only a handful of ingredients in order to maximize fishmeal protein efficiency, making it perfect to maximize weight gain of trout while not compromising nutritional health.
“There are some amazing sustainable solutions being developed throughout the aquaculture feed industry right now,” said Haugen. “With feeds trending towards plant-based and insect-based products, we felt there was still a strong opportunity to innovate around new fishmeal protein alternatives not regularly seen in the market.”
According to the USDA, aquaculture is defined as “the production of aquatic organisms under controlled conditions throughout part or all of their lifecycle”. You’ve likely seen fish labeled “farm-raised” at your local grocery store or seafood market, meaning that fish is a product of aquaculture. NOAA’s FishWatch states that approximately half of the seafood eaten in the world is farm-raised.
Though aquaculture and farm-raised seafood have occasionally garnered a negative reputation due to the resources needed to raise farmed fish, companies like Nobilis Aqua are passionately working to make a positive impact on the industry. This is the main reason that Nobilis’ Growout Feed is made using Asian Carp, which is an invasive species of fish causing issues in Kentucky Lake, amongst other areas in the United States.
“In my graduate studies, I wanted to marry my knowledge of aquatic biology to business practices and needs in the aquaculture industry,” says Tardiff. “Nobilis Aqua focuses on creating an aquafeed that is sustainable and found that replacing the traditionally-used wild caught ocean fish with invasive Asian Carp made a whole lot of sense both nutritionally and environmentally.”
A compelling case can be made for growing more seafood in the United States, according to FishWatch. Demands for healthy seafood products are increasing every year as stocks of wild-caught seafood are dwindling. The United States imports 90 percent of its seafood, half of which is from aquaculture, contributing to the trade deficit. Yet only 5 percent of our seafood supply is from freshwater and marine aquaculture within the US, according to NOAA Fisheries.
Frontier Trout Ranch is part of the 5% hoping to create growth within the domestic aquaculture industry. The Krantz family-run ranch has raised premium Colorado trout on 163 acres in the San Luis Valley since 2013. The ranch, managed by Kermit Krantz, “blends tried and true aquaculture techniques with the sustainability of a single-source, closed water system in order to grow superior, fresh, natural fish”.
When Haugen and Tardiff were searching for a company that would allow them to test their trout feed – in the midst of a global pandemic – they reached out to Krantz, who is considered a pioneer in modern, clean, sustainable fish farming techniques. Interested in Nobilis’ product, but also feeling the impact of restaurant closures during the pandemic, Krantz saw an opportunity to partner with Seattle Fish both for greater access to retail and wholesale and to financially contribute to Nobilis’ growing company.
Even under the pressure of the pandemic, Krantz did not want to compromise Frontier’s commitment to sustainability and innovation. Knowing that Seattle Fish has similar values, Krantz pitched Derek Figueroa, CEO & President of Seattle Fish Co., the idea of using this feed on his farm, its benefits in sustainability, and how SFC could assist by issuing a small grant to Nobilis and pre-purchasing feed.
“This is such a unique opportunity and allows Seattle Fish to deliver on our Leadership Aspiration to Lead the Growth of Sustainable Seafood Consumption,” says Derek Figueroa. “Marrying an innovative feed startup, a western slope fish farmer, Seattle Fish and our customers into one common goal and objective is something we take enormous pride in. Ultimately, our investment was a no-brainer. Partnerships like these are how we will continue to create innovation in the industry.”
Though it was a risk to use Nobilis’ feed on Frontier’s all-natural trout farm, especially in a time where farmers, distributors and restaurants across the world suffered due to the consequences of the pandemic, the risk has so far produced great results.
“Most feeds you come across have 50+ ingredients,” said Krantz on a recent visit to Seattle Fish to deliver trout, “but Nobilis’ product only has a handful. That was one of the first things that intrigued me about their feed, in addition to the use of invasive Asian Carp. Another was that the feed floats, but honestly, even if it did sink, I don’t think the trout would let it… They eat it so quickly!”
“The trout are growing like crazy, too,” Krantz continued. “Though this feed may be a tad bit pricier, it’s paying for itself tenfold when you take into consideration how quickly the trout are growing. They can be harvested faster, which cuts down on the amount of feed we need to use over time. I hope we can get more fish farmers to start using this product!”
Photos courtesy of Nobilis Aqua & Frontier Trout Ranch.