Josh Goldman has finally settled down: After years of searching, the fish farmer found the perfect fish to raise. Delicious and sustainable, it’s called barramundi, and it took him over three years and 30 tries to find it.
Josh’s search began when he was a student at Hampshire College where he became convinced that sustainable aquaculture, done the right way, could meet the growing global demand for seafood without depleting wild fish populations. But not any fish would do. Josh was determined to find a species that had both knockout flavor and health benefits, in addition to being amenable to natural farming methods, meaning they have very little impact on their environment.
Early Experiments with Aquaponics
After graduating, Josh started raising tilapia using a method called aquaponics: he planted basil and mixed greens in the water in which the tilapia lived. The fish waste fed the plants, which in turn, purified the water for the fish, creating a happy, self-sufficient system. But even as his work was succeeding, Josh sensed there was potential to do more. “Tilapia was a great fish to learn from,” he says. “But ultimately I wanted to find a fish with real culinary appeal.”
He decided to move on from tilapia and apply his innovative approach to striped bass, which is native to U.S. waters and had declined precipitously due to overfishing. He hoped to make this fish plentiful again through sustainable farming.
He scaled up his operation. Over the next 12 years, he raised striped bass and collected more than 70 families from rivers along the east coast, hoping to identify native stocks with favorable characteristics, like those that grew faster or had calmer temperaments. “It proved very difficult to get them to spawn reliably in captivity, though, which was essential to ensuring a year-round supply” says Josh.
So Josh began a global quest to find a new fish to farm. He tried numerous tropical marine species, including various types of grouper, snapper and cobia, which all had desirably relaxed demeanors and were both tasty and nutritious. But they lacked the hardiness which is critical to farming naturally. Josh turned his attention to Amazonian species, including pacu, tambaqui and pirarucu which can breathe air, eat low on the food chain and grow rapidly. But despite these advantages, they’re freshwater fish which lack the clean, briny flavor of the ocean. According to Josh, “they didn’t pass the deliciousness test.”
After trialing more than 30 species, he finally found “the one” that met the elusive trifecta of sustainability, nutrition and great taste.
Enter Barramundi: The Perfect Fish for a Changing World
In 2004, Josh discovered barramundi, an iconic seabass fish that’s wildly popular in Australia, easy to cook at home, and has a clean, buttery flavor with a satisfyingly meaty texture.
The best part? They could be sustainably farmed at scale. Barramundi are what’s known as a diadromous fish, which means they bridge the gap between fresh and saltwater, reproducing in the ocean on the lunar cycle and then moving into freshwater to mature. A single female can lay up to 30 million eggs. “And because barramundi travel between fresh and saltwater, they’re natural flexitarians,” says Josh. “They have a varied diet and can thrive eating low on the food chain, making them efficient to raise without compromising the oils which keep them moist and provide health benefits.”
Josh’s search was over. He had found a fish that would grow to become a culinary sensation and a model for responsible aquaculture.