Utah couple on track to open state’s first tilapia farm

Utah couple on track to open state’s first tilapia farm

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah couple is on track to open the state’s first tilapia farm after they got an exemption from a law that prohibits commercial farming of the species because it can pose a threat to native fish.

Cliff and Teri Sackett are looking to build an aquaponics facility capable of producing 17,500 pounds (7,938 kilograms) of tilapia each month in central Utah’s Sanpete County, The Salt Lake Tribune reported .

The Utah Wildlife Board approved a variance request Thursday for the Moroni farmers following a Certification Review Committee’s recommendation to approve the request.

“Tilapia has been identified as one of the top 100 most invasive species in the world,” the committee’s recommendation states. “If tilapia escape from the facility and cause damage to native or sport fish populations or their habitats, it will be your (the Sacketts’) responsibility to restore the damage incurred as a result of the escapement.”

The committee suggested guidelines for the Sacketts, including building a safe facility away from essential waterways and prohibiting the sale or transfer of live fish from the facility.

Cliff Sackett said he is willing to following all the requirements.

“I want to get fresh fish and vegetables out to the community,” Sackett said. “I hate to see the frozen stuff come from out of country.”

U.S. consumption of tilapia has grown to 30 percent annually in recent years. About 80 percent of the fish is shipped to the U.S. from China and other Asian countries. Another 10 percent is farm-raised in South America.

The couple still needs an aquaculture license from the state Department of Agriculture and Food.

Sackett found a site south of Fountain Green for the facility. He said it would take at least six months to build it.