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By Gregory Glenn

Any of you folks ever had trout before? Probably. It’s not exactly a rare fish, but it’s certainly not the Fish-On-Hand around the North Shore… or is it? If you’ve gone freshwater fishing, maybe you’ve caught some in your time. When I was a kid, I’d caught a couple. Did you know, though, that any trout we’ve caught in fresh water in Massachusetts was put there by the state? Trout we see in stores around here, as well, likely came from Idaho. Crazy, right? I know. See, I think we understand one another. People like you and I, we think about trout all of the time, but we never really stop and think of where it comes from.

You say you don’t really think about trout all that much? Well, I’m afraid I’m about to make you think about trout, because trout could be key to our very survival. Kind of.

Colin Davis and Andy Davenport have founded Redemption Fish Company, a fish farm located at the Shetland Park, in downtown Salem. As it is with all good and true revolutions, their work is taking place in a basement (garages are also acceptable.) In fact, their exact location is wildly appropriate, as not only has this space been used for water treatment, but 45 years ago it was the site of another fish farm.

Now if you’re like me, (which I’m starting to doubt since that whole “thinking about trout” thing a little while ago,) you’re probably thinking to yourself: “Fish farms? No, no, no… that’s not right. It’s not natural! Besides, aren’t those places bad for fish, and the environment, too?” The scientific response here is, “SORTA.”

“Honestly, a lot of fish farming, even well done fish farms,” this is Andy talking, “they take in clean water from a water source, they’ll be right next to a river or anything like that, and then at the other side of the factory—it’s not polluted water, necessarily, because this is a biological process; it’s a natural process. What it is, is it’s artificially polluted. It’s the same way that runoff from a fertilized field runs into rivers, and causes algae problems.”

Colin and Andy are particularly interested in the lasting effects of fish farming, because their backgrounds are in science. Andy, for example, left the pharmaceutical industry to pursue fish farming because he saw the unintended destruction caused by traditional forms of agriculture. “It’s something that’s overlooked,” he says, “traditional fish farming falls the way of traditional agriculture. Input: clean—Output: waste. The waste is natural, so we overlook it because it’s not like chemical waste, it’s not like a nuclear power plant—that’s obvious poison. It’s a subtle poison, but it adjusts and it changes the landscape so much.”

Unfortunately, these practices are maintained in the name of lower costs. Treating the waste byproduct is significantly more expensive than simply dumping it, and using new water. But that’s where Redemption… redeems, itself? (I’m really, very sorry.) The waste that the fish are producing is also the perfect kind of food for plants. In fact, these guys are using an elaborate hydroponic irrigation system to grow all kinds of useful plants. Not THOSE kinds of plants, but they’ve successfully grown wasabi, and basil plants, which they hope to produce in abundance as time goes on.

“Everything biological wants to live,” Andy tells me—which is like, duh; but listen: “We have come far enough… especially for fish and plant species, we know so much. Giving them the bare minimum, giving them exactly what they need to live, and figuring out ways to bring that into the facility with the smallest input is how we knock down costs in the long-term, but in the short-term knock down environmental impact.”

All right, so let’s catch ourselves up. We’ve got a model which is, at once, ethical in both its business and biological consciousness. It seeks to introduce a product—a species of fish, into a market which currently doesn’t exactly recognize it. Consider that there are concerns about the state of cod in the Atlantic, for example, whose numbers are thinning. There are two prevailing theories, that the cod are either overfished or that temperatures in our vicinity are getting warmer than the cod prefer. In either case, it’s a result of unhealthy changes being made to the cod’s environment. Sure, freshwater fish, like trout and tilapia, aren’t exactly the same as the saltwater fish we all know and love, but they’re similarly delicious. However, largest producers of these fish aren’t anywhere near the North Shore, or New England, at all. Redemption wants to change that, and they’re making strides.

In fact, you might have already had the opportunity to sample some of Redemption’s product, and you may not even know it. Chef Tim Haigh, over at Bambolina, has prepared some of Redemption’s rainbow trout—and just recently, the Hawthorne Hotel showcased some Redemption trout for restaurant week. This spring, you’ll have the opportunity to check out the Marblehead farmer’s market (fingers crossed for Salem’s,) and score some of their trout for yourself. “That’s really where the proof is going to be in the pudding,” this is Andy again, “we really want to get it in front of people so that they start changing their mind about rainbow trout, and start asking questions about farming practices with fish.” 

“Trout is our entry-point, but what we’re trying to do is to diversify into other species—we’re trying to present a whole seafood option other than the ocean. Rainbow trout? Number-one best fish to introduce to the North Shore. You don’t see it on the menu, but you know it, and you love it.”

Long story short, we are all confronted with the responsibility of sustaining life on this planet – not just our own, but the quality of life around us. We’ve made great strides as far as energy production, and consumption are concerned, but it’s time to get serious about sustainable food and farming practices. Redemption Fish Company has the right idea, and Colin and Andy are working tirelessly to improve and introduce a cleaner, more ethical product to us, and through remarkably creative means.