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September 10, 2013 10:00 PM

A Big Fish Story

Sioux Falls, SD

It may shock you to hear that 85 percent of the fish consumed in this country comes from overseas.
But a Brookings company hopes to reverse that number by drastically cutting the cost of feeding fish and encouraging more fish farms here. 

Fish farming, or Aquaculture as it's called, can be done anywhere, even in the middle of the prairie, with no ocean in site.  But not enough people are interested in raising fish instead of traditional livestock. 

"We're lagging so far behind in the U.S. because of our own domestic production of fish simply because of cost.  The cost of fish feed is that primary driver," Mike Brown of Prairie AquaTech said.

Now a couple of South Dakota State University Professors have come up with a way to cut that cost with a new fish food.

"Soybeans by far provide the best match to fishmeal," Brown said.

That's how the Brookings high-tech fish food company Prairie AquaTech was born, using a patent pending process to turn soybean meal and other ag byproducts into a protein feed.  The start-up has attracted $5 million in funding in the last year, including a grant from the National Science Foundation.

"The grants are great technology validation and then the individual investors and support from industry is good, commercial industry validation that we have a technology and a product that can be successful," Mary Beth Fishback of Prairie AquaTech said.

But it's more than just making a new kind of feed that's less expensive.  It's also about boosting the local economy by encouraging more fish farms and helping to feed the growing global need.

"The history of South Dakota is traditional ag.  We can diversify that industry, incorporate fish as another form of livestock because we have water, land resources and we have people," Brown said.

The company also sees potential to create new, more economical food for all kinds of livestock and even pets.

The next move for Prairie AquaTech will be to relocate into the brand new Brookings Ag Tech Center, which will be complete in the spring. It will have 30,000 square feet to get its fish product ready for market.

Prairie AquaTech has successfully tested its product on commercial fish feeding trials in Indiana and expects to have it available to producers in 2014.

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