Fish grown for aquaculture research is being served at Baltimore-area soup kitchens and food banks

A public-private partnership announced Monday is bringing fresh fish to Baltimore-area food banks and soup kitchens.

Called FISH (Feeding Individuals to Support Health), the project gives a formal name to the roughly 1,800 pounds of seafood donated annually by the University of Maryland’s Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in the Inner Harbor.

Researchers began growing the fish there in 2008 as a way to develop sustainable forms of aquaculture.

Monday’s announcement brings in new partners, including seafood distributor seafood distributor J.J. McDonnell & Co., spice giant McCormick & Co., the United Way of Central Maryland and University of Maryland, Baltimore County, which conducts research with the institute.

“We believe this project is critical … to not only break the barrier to accessing nutritious foods that are high in protein, but it is important to instill the importance of healthy eating toward sustained healthy living,” said Franklyn Baker, the president and CEO of the United Way of Central Maryland.

J.J. McDonnell, based in Elkridge, will use its existing infrastructure to process the fish and supply it fresh and frozen to area nonprofits including the Maryland Food Bank, Tuerk House and Moveable Feast.

Sparks-based McCormick will provide spices and recipes to build interest in the fish by making it an attractive meal.

“Nutrition means focusing on brain power. When children are well-fed they can do better in school,” said Freeman Hrabowski, president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

It took 20 years to perfect the scientific process that grows fish from eggs to market size, said Keiko Saito, a UMBC researcher working at the marine institute. The facility grows about 4,000 pounds of whole fish annually, selling some of the harvest to area restaurants and donating about 45 percent.

During the Monday lunch rush at the Franciscan Center soup kitchen, several hundred adults and children ate bronzini, a Mediterranean fish grown at the institute. The fish soon will become a regular menu item.

That was good news to West Lexington resident Mary Allen, 61, who eats at the center several times a week.

“I love brain food,” she said, referring to the fish. “Some people don’t have any brains. Any kind of fish with omegas, that’s high nutrition.”

On its website, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration praises fish for being “rich in many micronutrients” and providing “certain omega-3 fatty acids that the body cannot make and are important for normal growth and development.”

Midway resident Alfred Hill, 48, said he already chooses the center for its comfort, security and peaceful atmosphere — fish only adds to the appeal.

“It’s healthy. A lot of protein. Good for the skin, body, mind — it’s a good thing,” he said.

Standing off to the side at the soup kitchen, Saito watched as they ate the fish she grew and enjoyed some herself.

“It’s the best moment if you see somebody eating it in front of you,” she said. “It’s so precious to see the little kids — even the picky eaters — say they want more.”

amuckerman@baltsun.com

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