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Fish in the Fields

Resource Renewal Institute has several projects underway aimed at securing and protecting the health and integrity of freshwater systems in California and around the West. These projects are 1) Fish in the Fields: Sourcing New Protein and Restoring our Seas; and 2) the Instream Water Transfers Project.

Fish in the Fields: Sourcing New Protein and Restoring
our Seas


Small schooling species of forage fish, such as anchovy and herring, provide a critical link in the food chain between plankton and larger fish. But forage fish are in danger worldwide, largely due to overfishing. Now that human appetites have wiped out most of the world’s favorite fish varieties such as salmon and tuna, fish farms are increasingly supplying this lost source of protein.

Nearly 90 percent of the forage fish harvest is processed for animal feed, including feed for farmed fish. Studies show that feeder fish are more valuable in the water than in the net. Their predators, including salmon, sustain economies and cultures worldwide. Declines in forage fish have led to serious declines in fish, bird, and marine mammal populations. Without action to reverse this trend, ocean ecosystems, global industries, economies, and cultures are in danger of collapse.


Commercial production of freshwater feeder fish for animal feed, fish bait, fish oil, and human consumption holds tremendous potential to reduce pressure on ocean feeder fish species and provide both environmental and economic benefits. In 2012, RRI’s pioneering Nigiri Project demonstrated that young salmon, feeding only on naturally occurring plankton in flooded fallow rice fields doubled in length and quintupled their weight in just five weeks. RRI transferred the project to UC Davis where fisheries biologists are further testing and bringing the project to scale. RRI is now planning to apply the Nigiri model to the commercial cultivation of freshwater feeder fish. With 600,000 acres of rice fields, California has the potential to garner significant economic and conservation benefits from this new industry, as do the American South and rice-growing areas in Asia.

Watch our Video

View and share the Fish in the Fields PDF

Next Steps

RRI is developing a prototype for an ecologically and economically sound feeder fish source, testing the viability of co-cultivation of freshwater species in fallow rice fields in California’s Central Valley.

We have initiated the next phase of Fish in the Fields in partnership with academic and market experts in 2015-16. As of fall 2015, our fresh water fish hatchery is operational and our fields are being prepared for fish introduction. RRI is seeking funding from stakeholders including environmental grant makers, venture funds, relevant industry associations, individuals, and government.

Check out some of our work in the field:


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