Curious about farmed fish and the world of aquaculture? In our series, “Ask A Fish Farmer,” we’re exploring the fascinating and important work of growing fish by going right to the source and chatting with fish farmers.
This week, we’re doing a deep dive into the world of rainbow trout with our friend Wesley “Wes” Eason, 3rdgeneration fish farmer at Sunburst Trout Farms.Wes’ company excels at growing protein rich, native American fish, from a farm we love to support.
We partnered with Wes and Sunburst Trout Farms on our Rainbow Trout with Salsa Verde not only because their fish are delicious, but also because they strive for excellence when it comes to sustainably and responsibly raising their rainbow trout. All US Trout, including Sunburst Trout Farms, is rated on Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch as ‘Best Choice’.
How long has Sunburst Trout Farms been in the family?
My grandfather, Dick Jennings, started the company in 1948. It was the first commercial trout farm east of the Mississippi River.
Did you grow up eating and loving fish?
I definitely grew up eating it; I like it more now. As a child growing up on a fish farm, anytime we had family or friends come into town they requested trout. As I’ve gotten older I’ve developed more of a palate for it, I eat it at least once or twice a week.
What lead to you working in aquaculture? Was it something that you realized over a long period of time and was there someone who guided you there? Or was there an “a-ha” light bulb moment when you instantly knew that you wanted to work on a fish farm?
When I was a kid, growing up around the business, I would work here during summers for spending money. During that time, zero part of me envisioned me being a part of this business.
From a young age I wanted to do work with children. In college I was a sociology and criminology major, which had nothing to do with aquaculture. After college I worked with juvenile delinquents, which was painfully eye-opening work.
I ended up coming back to the family business at a time when they needed help. That ah-ha moment happened my first week back when I saw how many people we are able to feed and how far reaching this product could go.
Describe your ideal seafood meal. What’s on your plate?
My favorite seafood meal is Sunburst Farms Trout, although I do love a good red snapper as well. My favorite way to prepare our trout is to harvest it in the morning, season with olive oil, cracked pepper and sea salt, and put on a grill, cooking for only 4 minutes. When it is this fresh, I like to keep it simple.
Any proud, funny, or memorable moments from the farm?
When I was about 14-15 years old, one of my jobs was to dispose of the fish remains on the farm, but I didn’t have the stomach for it. Working with me were three country guys from the mountains of North Carolina, who thought it was real funny to watch me dispose of the remains of my breakfast in addition to the fish remains.
We (and I) have made so many improvements in how we handle fish remains at Sunburst Trout Farms. We are proud that today all the fish byproducts are composted, creating less waste on our farm.
How or why did you choose this species?
My grandfather, who founded the company, traveled to Europe and was impressed with the flavor of Rainbow Trout. It’s a hardy and sustainable fish, that can be grown reliably in a land based farm.
What makes your farm special or unique? What part of the farm are you most proud of?
At Sunburst Trout Farms, we are very much a family. I grew up around the farm and have seen the many changes over the past 15-20 years. I’m most proud of how many local people we’re able to employ and how rewarding they’re jobs are to them.
Do you use antibiotics on the farm? If so, when and why?
No antibiotics are used at the farm. Ever.
What are you doing here on the farm to prevent harm to wild fish of the same species?
Sunburst Trout Farms is a landlocked farm, below a watershed, so our fish don’t have an opportunity to escape and swim away.
How do you monitor water quality? Is this important for fish health, for the environment?
We do testing once a year, under the regulation of the FDA for toxins, pollutants, soluble and insoluble materials, and more. It is important to test our waters because if the water is not clean, the fish is not going to taste clean either. We are fortunate we get clean mountain water that flows in from a federally protected wildlife area.
What is the secret to running a great fish farm?
Quality, consistency and listening to consumers and customers are key.
What does sustainable mean to you? Is fish farming sustainable?
Sustainability means having a product that won’t be depleted, and will be available for future generations to come. There must be minimal environmental impact, minimal waste compared to a large volume of water. It also entails sustaining a community, providing food and employment. Responsibly farming trout endures that trout is in on the plate forever!
Everyone wants their seafood to be super fresh. How fresh is farmed fish?
We process our Trout and hand deliver the product all in one day. If our customer is more than 60 miles away, then the Trout are shipped overnight. With farmed fish, you don’t have to be right at the dock to have the freshest product.
How did you meet LoveTheWild?
In 2015, I had a conversation with Jacqueline Claudia, who shared the same vision about aquaculture and seafood as I did, and really liked our product. She then wanted to give it a whirl, so here we are now.
How do you feel about LoveTheWild and what they are trying to do for the industry?
It is a beautiful model. The packaging with the parchment paper, sauce and box design are all appealing. I respect that LoveTheWild is encouraging people to eat fish that is responsibly farmed raised.