BAYFIELD – Aquaculture, or fish farming, is the fastest growing food production system globally. In addition, aquaponics, or raising fish and plants in the same system, is becoming increasingly popular for both the commercial industry and hobbyists, including school districts. Aquaponics is a way for students to become directly involved in producing sustainable vegetables and protein for their cafeteria while learning mathematics, biology, technology, marketing and business skills interactively.
Since 2006, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility located in Red Cliff has been working with the local area schools to incorporate aquaculture and aquaponics in the classroom. The facility provides technical assistance, donation of fish and materials, classroom presentations, activities and interactive tours of the facility. Due to UWSP NADF involvement, Ashland, Washburn and Bayfield have operating aquaculture and aquaponics systems, which have raised yellow perch, walleye and saugeye.
While students and educators utilize their systems as a STEM education tool, the systems also initiate curiosity and understanding of aquaculture and aquaponics at a young age. These schools are also educating a future workforce for these growing industries.
Having an experienced and qualified workforce is currently one of the major bottlenecks to the expansion of the aquaculture and aquaponics industries. Students that receive an education and hands-on experience in aquaculture have incredible opportunities for positions in this field. UWSP NADF documents over 90 percent job placement for past technicians and even volunteers that have experience working at the facility. Many of these students are from the tri-county area of Ashland, Washburn and Bayfield.
Excitingly, the world’s largest salmon aquaponics facility has recently opened its doors in Wisconsin. Official partners of UWSP NADF, the company Superior Fresh, LLC. is producing around 16,000 heads of lettuce daily while also raising Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout for the food fish industry. In full production, they will hire 50 employees, three of which already are UW-Stevens Point graduates including the Chief Operating Officer, Brandon Gottsacker and Fish Manager, Kyle Woolever.
Recently a local student from Bayfield, Kurtis Weber, was hired by Superior Fresh as a Fisheries Technician. Weber graduated from Bayfield High School, interned at UWSP NADF, received a degree from UW-River Falls and worked as a field biologist in Colorado. Due to his experiences and connections to UWSP NADF, Weber now works for one of the world’s largest, state-of-the-art aquaponics facilities.
Scottie Sandstrom, Executive Director of the Bayfield County Economic Development Corporation, along with the board, recognizes the potential industry growth in aquaponics in Wisconsin. The board provided initial funding in 2015 for Bayfield and Washburn school districts to assist the schools aquaponics programs.
“Considering that initial high school aquaponics funding as a springboard to explore additional opportunities, myself, Ian Meeker of UW Extension, Emma Wiermaa and Greg Fischer of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility got together and explored grant funding.,” Sandstrom said. “We were lead to apply for this grant which has now provided training for two Bayfield High School staff, along with upgrading the equipment and curriculum opportunities for the students. With good instruction and state of the art industry equipment for the students to hone their skills, students can be encouraged to further their education beyond high school in this growing industry field."