University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

Laura L. Hunt

Fred Binkowski
UWM WATER Institute

Ryan Skaife at the
Hunger Task Force

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Mar 6, 2009 
UWM donates fish to Hunger Task Force
Photos by Kyle R. Stevens
Yellow Perch
Yellow perch fingerlings moving up in the world — their world of the Recirculating Aquaculture System at the Great Lakes WATER Institute.

Part of the vast amount of research conducted at the Great Lakes WATER Institute at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (UWM) concerns faster and more cost-effective ways to raise one of Milwaukee’s favorite types of fish – yellow perch.

Frozen perch
An aquacultural bounty: frozen yellow perch fillets ready for delivery to the Hunger Task Force.
But the Institute’s aquaculture scientists have done such a good job, they now have jam-packed freezers of fish, but no one to eat the research.

Today the WATER Institute is sharing the bounty by donating about 500 pounds of processed and packaged yellow perch filets that were raised at its aquaculture center to the Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee. The estimated retail value of the filets is about $7,000.

A short announcement event, followed by unloading of the freezers, will be held at the WATER Institute, 600 E. Greenfield Ave., at 1:30 p.m.

It’s a gift that officials at the Hunger Task Force are receiving with open arms, says Director Sherrie Tussler. Hunger Task Force has experienced a 25 percent increase in monthly food pantry participation in the past year.

“This is the first time that Hunger Task Force has received a donation of fresh fish,” says Tussler. “To several of our network pantries serving specific cultures, this gift is truly valuable.”

Improving aquaculture, or fish farming, has been a goal of the aquaculture program at the WATER Institute for the last decade, says senior scientist Fred Binkowski. Aquaculture is the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture because wild stocks of many species are dwindling, while demand remains high.
Perch, for example, is no longer harvested from Lake Michigan, says Binkowski. “You’ll never have the amount of perch in the lake that we had prior to the 1960s. Commercial fishing can’t meet the demand.”

Student worker Andrew Meyer
Andrew Meyer, a student worker at the aquaculture center, checks the water to ensure suitability for the fish that will be raised in it.
Binkowski, however, has developed a method to breed the fish year-round. Through careful manipulation of temperatures and other environmental factors, Binkowski developed a patented way to get perch to spawn more often.

He and other scientists at the Aquaculture Center also have reduced the time it takes to raise yellow perch to market size (about 7.5 inches long) from 15 to 12 months, using their 8,000-gallon Re-circulating Aquaculture System (RAS).

The system could be replicated for raising other marketable fish species, like walleye and crappie, he says.

Binkowski sees the potential of the research to help make urban aquaculture a reality, bringing a source of jobs and a high-quality food product to the metropolitan area of Milwaukee.

In addition, WATER scientists are testing ways to recycle the byproducts of the process. Fish waste, for example is extracted from the water and used to produce garden fertilizer.

Aquaculture projects at the WATER Institute are funded by the Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute, private industry, the North Central Regional Aquaculture Center, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture which supports the USDA/ARS Aquaculture Cooperative housed at the WATER Institute.

Sen. Herb Kohl helped secure funding to establish the USDA/ARS Aquaculture Cooperative in 2004 and has supported its continued funding. The program, which works to advance and stimulate commercial aquaculture for food production, has received about $1.4 million in federal funds since its inception. It is one of about a dozen such programs nationwide, and the only one of its kind in the Great Lakes region.

The Great Lakes WATER Institute is the largest academic freshwater research center on the Great Lakes. Working in partnership with public and private agencies, it engages in interdisciplinary research, education and outreach to protect the world’s freshwater resources and the health of the human and natural populations dependent upon them. 

Hunger Task Force is an anti-hunger organization which believes that every person has a right to adequate food obtained with dignity. Hunger Task Force works to prevent hunger and malnutrition by providing food to people in need today and by promoting social policies to achieve food security tomorrow.