A Great Lakes Friday night fish fry just wouldn’t be the same without the sweet, mild flavor of the region’s favorite fish, yellow perch. While fishing regulations now limit availability of the popular fish to the hungry public, Bell Aquaculture seeks to feed that demand with its farm-raised yellow perch.
Since launching in 2008, Bell’s fish has been featured at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City, at traditional Hoosier events such as the annual Purdue Fish Fry, and at restaurants across the state from the Summit Club in South Bend all the way down to the French Lick Resort in southern Indiana.
Largest in the Nation
Hoosiers might be surprised to find that Bell – located right here in Indiana – is the nation’s largest yellow perch farm. Bell’s indoor production facilities are located in Albany, Ind., just north of Muncie.
“We chose to raise yellow perch for two reasons: the high demand for the popular fish and the limited supply available,” says Norman McCowan, president of Bell.
Raising fish from its own “broodstock” – or breeding stock – to processing and packaging on-site, Bell is unique in its commitment and ability to have a hand in the entire process from beginning to end.
“Our self-contained indoor facilities allow us to fully control the growing environment of Bell perch, which is key to reducing the threat of contamination and disease,” McCowan says. “Controlling the environment also allows us to raise more fish in winter months, unlike outdoor ponds.”
Bell raises and processes 1.5 million yellow perch a year, distributing its products directly to several restaurants as well as through small distributors and straight to consumers through its website.
Commitment to Sustainable Farming
The environment and sustainability are top priorities for the farm, which recently received Indiana’s Certified Livestock Producer program certification from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.
“We feel the Certified Livestock Producer program is a reflection of the quality and best management practices we were already implementing every day,” McCowan says. “We are constantly looking for ways to be responsible from cradle to grave. Whenever possible, we try to reduce our water and energy consumption, purchase locally, and we are currently working with Purdue and the Indiana Soybean Alliance to develop grain-based feeds.”
Furthering thecompany’s commitment, Bell is also in the process of developing an organic fertilizer that will enable it to return remains of the Bell perch processed at its facility to the earth with no waste. Scheduled to launch in the spring of 2011, Fish Rich – an all-natural fertilizer – is appropriate for all types of flowers, fruits and vegetables and will even be available for specialty blend requests. The new product will be available through small distributors and also on Bell’s website.
Flower Beds to Fryers
From fertilizing flower beds to supplying fish fryers everywhere, Bell is dedicated to serving quality products to its customers. The company website offers resources on yellow perch – the fish and the food – restaurant locators and a gallery of great perch recipes for the at-home chef.
So what is McCowan’s favorite way to eat his yellow perch?
“The ladies in the office always tease me, but when we have guests, I love to serve the Blueberry Perch Breakfast Bake,” says McCowan. “It may seem an odd combination, but I just love it.”