Andrew Gillis is banking on the fish industry and has made the investment to prove it -- about 3,400 native striped bass he hopes to sell to area restaurants.
"There's a tremendous shortage of fish," said Mr. Gillis, 51, owner of Aquatic Marine Systems, which supplies aquaculture equipment. "We have vastly over-harvested our crops, and the oceans are seeing depletions" that may never be alleviated.
Mr. Gillis of Pasadena said the purpose of his experiment is to see how successfully he can breed and raise fish in a controlled environment. He has stocked four cylindrical cages off his pier in Park Creek.
Five times a day, he feeds the 3-month-old fingerlings protein-enriched pellets. He figures the fish devour four pounds of feed every day.
Mr. Gillis said he got the idea of fish farming from Bill Voorhies, one of his customers. Mr. Voorhies' company, Pintail Point Farms in Chester, has had reasonable success in breeding and raising fish for consumption.
The aquaculture industry has made substantial progress. In Mississippi, the 15-year-old catfish industry is the state's No. 1 food crop. Salmon and trout are being raised in net pens in Maine and Chile.
Aquaculture helps feed 20 percent of the world's population, said Mr. Gillis. About 75 percent of the world's shrimp is harvested through aquaculture, he said.
"There's great potential to raising fish," he said. "The aquaculture industry could be as big as the chicken industry. That's where we could go."
A strong U.S. aquaculture industry could counter a nationwide seafood trade deficit, said Mr. Gillis.
"The United States should be the exporter," he said. "We have the technology [and] we have the people. Why should we be importing seafood when we can grow it here and create jobs?"
Mr. Gillis said he plans to invite local high schools to study his fish and learn more about aquaculture.
"See the minnows? They like to swim around the pens and eat the excess feed that comes out of the pens," Mr. Gillis said as he threw in some feed. "And the bigger fish come by and eat the minnows. It's an ecosystem right here."
Mr. Gillis said that by next October, the fingerlings will have grown to an adult length of 14 inches and be ready for market.
He plans to sell them to local restaurants at about $3 per fish but hasn't talked to any restaurants yet.
The beauty of aquaculture, he said, lies in delivering whatever the customer desires.
"We can raise the fish to the size demanded by the market," he said. "The advantage is that we can control the environment. . . . So if someone wants a quarter-pound fish, we can get them a quarter-pound fish."
The drawback to raising fish outside their natural environment is that the meat is bland because the water lacks certain nutrients.
But the nutrients fish offer could outweigh the culinary aspects, Mr. Gillis said.
"People are looking for a high source of protein," Mr. Gillis said. "People are going away from beef and pork. Fish provide that protein."