Up Close and Personal with Rainbow Trout


Sometimes you meet people who are truly remarkable. I met such a person in September 2007 on a trout farm visit to Idaho. Following two days of presentations at the U.S. Trout Farmers Association meeting, my fellow fishmongers and I were greeted by Leo Ray, who loaded us into his truck for an all day tour of the Snake River Canyon of South Central Idaho. A tall, fit man of undeterminable age, Leo is a zoologist, fish farmer, and naturalist. What’s remarkable about Leo is that he not only possesses tremendous knowledge of aquaculture and knows every inch of the vast land around him—the geology, river systems, the wildlife, etc.—but he shares it. With his wisdom and appreciation for nature, Leo transformed for me what first appeared as a dry, rough, rocky landscape into a living ecosystem that interacts each day with large agriculture and aquaculture industries. Trout at Leo’s farm are raised in concrete raceways situated on a down-sloping hill. This set-up allows him to utilize gravity for water to flow, which is critical for maintaining healthy oxygen levels, among other things. The water in this system flows downhill from one portion of the raceway to the next. Sediments are collected at the end of each level of the raceway and then flushed to settling ponds before the water is released back into the river or into irrigation canals for local farmers. Farms must have Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permits and monitor water quality according to the Total Maximum Daily Load limits. In Idaho farms are required to monitor water quality each month and report results to the EPA and the Department of Environmental Quality. In addition, these agencies do annual spot checks on the farm. Allowable discharges are based on assessments of what the river can assimilate. While currently all of the trout we sell at Whole Foods Market comes from flow-through raceway systems like Leo’s, we continue to keep our eye on developments of other types of systems such as closed, re-circulating systems. However, a major benefit of the flow-through raceway system is that there are no energy inputs to create flow in the water. In contrast, closed, re-circulating systems require energy inputs, which have a carbon footprint. What about feed?Even though most trout farms use the same type of farming system—flow-through concrete raceways—it is the subtle but significant differences among farms that distinguish approved and non-approved suppliers at Whole Foods Market. A good example with trout is the feed. Many trout farms use demand feeders—an upside-down plastic container for feed suspended over the surface of the water, with a wire reaching beneath the surface. With this system, it’s self serve: when the fish are hungry, they tap the wire with their noses and feed is released. But what’s in those demand feeders?

Most trout feed used on farms in the U.S. contains poultry meal because it works as an efficient source of protein. As well, several environmental organizations and feed suppliers tout poultry meal as a substitute for wild-caught fishmeal and oil. However, Whole Foods Market prohibits our suppliers from using poultry or mammalian by-products in feed for fish, just like we prohibit poultry or mammalian by-products as a feed component for animals that are raised to be sold as meat and poultry to our stores. Not only do we have many customers who eat fish but would not envision poultry-fed fish as meeting their personal expectations of what they’re buying, in terms of animal welfare, we think it is best to have the animal-sourced components of the feed be marine or fresh water-based rather than from land-based sources.Accordingly, trout feeds for the fish we sell currently contain fishmeal and fish oil for protein and fat, as well as vegetable ingredients as a source of carbohydrates. At the same time, we’re actively working to reduce pressure on wild fish populations and reduce reliance on the reduction fisheries that catch the fish that are turned into fishmeal. In fact, in our newly enhanced aquaculture standards, we’ve set an aggressive target for the amount of wild-caught fish that’s consumed as fishmeal and fish oil. And we’re actively encouraging producers to work with their feed companies to explore emerging alternatives to fishmeal and fish oil such as by-products from fish processing (the trimmings from fish processing, not to be confused with bycatch), and other innovative options such as algae-based products and other marine resources. By the way, thanks very much for your comments on my blog posts. I’ve enjoyed reading them and am responding either via the blog or through personal emails. Until the next time…

Explore More