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Iowa fish farm hosts Secretary Perdue

In a Thursday trip to central Iowa, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue made a stop at Eagle’s Catch, a 4-million-gallon tilapia farm. The Ellsworth, Iowa, facility employs 30 people and its fish tanks span 3.8 acres inside a massive greenhouse. A number of Iowa leaders including Senator Joni Ernst, Iowa secretary of agriculture Mike Naig, and Governor Kim Reynolds, joined the tour.

“In the midst of some tough times, this has been a really great day,” said Reynolds. “This is a young entrepreneur that has decided to stay in Iowa, to expand the opportunities in agribusiness.”

Perdue added, “This is about rural prosperity. It’s keeping the opportunity for a young Iowa citizen to be able to stay here in a rural part of Iowa, and not have to go somewhere else to get a job. They’re creating a very innovative company that has a noble opportunity to feed mankind.”

Eagle's Catch building and sign in Ellsworth, Iowa
Photo credit: Natalina Sents

About the fish farm

The dignitaries fed huge tanks of fish as they learned the company’s vision for safe, fresh, and sustainable seafood. CEO Joseph Sweeney and COO Paul Skartvedt explained their goals of making tilapia the most water-neutral and carbon-neutral animal protein. As the company grows to maximize its sustainability, they hope to fully utilize their effluent stream, reduce and eliminate single-use materials, and cut fish meal in their feed.

According to Eagle’s Catch, tilapia is the fouth-most popular seafood among American consumers, and it can be grown quickly. A growth cycle is nine months. Although the fish is originaly from the Nile River in Egypt, it is now grown and cultured around the world.

Photo credit: Natalina Sents

The future of aquaculture

Sweeney explains that the United States imports 91% of its seafood. Just 1.4% of that is inspected by the FDA, he adds. That’s one reason Eagle’s Catch is working to make the U.S. seafood-independent.

“I think what’s really incredible for the state of Iowa, and why we believe aquaculture is going to move this industry forward, is how supportive our regulatory bodies are. They’re showing up on our doorstep to say how can we help, not, how can we regulate,” says Sweeney. From his perspective, there are two ways federal and state officals can help Iowa aquaculture grow. 

“We want to be on a level playing field with the imported product that is coming from other parts of the world,” he says. Sweeney is confident U.S. aquaculture can be competitive globaly if everyone was held to the same inspection and labeling standards.

Joe Sweeney introduces Eagle's Catch mission to ag leaders
Photo credit: Natalina Sents

“There’s a lot of fraud that exists in labeling of product, and there’s a lot of product that is dumped on our U.S. food market,” Sweeney says. “There have been a number of tests done that show over 50% of the seafood coming from overseas is not what they say it is. That’s a problem for both American aquaculture and American families that are consuming the product.”

In addition to a level playing field, Sweeney also suggests that processing inspections should be moved from FDA to the USDA’s purview.

Fish tanks at Eagle's Catch
Photo credit: Natalina Sents

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