It’s no secret that the upper reaches of Idaho’s Snake River are home to a world-class trout fishery, but did you know the Snake is also a major player in the U.S. aquaculture industry? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Idaho leads the nation in trout farming, accounting for about 70% of total production in a typical year. 

Idaho’s aquaculture industry is centered in the Magic Valley around the communities of Hagerman, Buhl and Twin Falls, and relies on clean, cold and constantly-flowing spring water from the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer. This water is what makes large-scale, fish farming possible in this area. 

The Snake River’s aquaculture industry prides itself on rainbow and steelhead trout filets and sturgeon caviar. With the U.S. currently importing seafood on a vast scale from across the world and many wild fisheries threatened due to high demand, our neighborhood fish farming operations are important for Idahoans looking for local food sources. 

However, not all is well on the Snake. Water quality in the Snake River system faces serious threats from pollutants (notably phosphorus and nitrate) and the Idaho Conservation League is working to restore the river

The aquaculture industry is in the unique position of recognizing both sides of the pollution issue. On one hand, aquaculture facilities are a regulated source of pollution, requiring Clean Water Act discharge permits just like municipal wastewater treatment plants. Also, fish feed and fish waste are sources of phosphorus, which is a regulated pollutant on the Snake River; as a result many of these facilities have engineered their fish food to reduce phosphorus concentrations. 

On the other hand, the business of fish farming is entirely dependent on getting clean, cold spring water from the aquifer to fill the fish rearing pools, called raceways, at their facilities. As the aquifer gets increasingly polluted with nitrogen and phosphorus from excess agricultural fertilizer and animal manure, fish farm owners feel the brunt of declining water quality.

As the Snake faces stricter limits on pollution in the river and the groundwater, we look forward to working with Idaho’s aquaculture industry to continue to protect the clean water resources that are so important to all of us.