A tropical perch that can grow 6 feet long, eats everything it can get in its mouth and changes sex midway though its life cycle could become the next cultured food fish in Oregon.
A Bend man wants permission to commercially grow barramundi in an indoor aquaculture facility he recently built in Tumalo, creating a high-valued commodity that he believes will be popular table fare.
Robert Camel has asked the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to take barramundi off the "prohibited species" list and add it to "controlled species" so it can be farmed commercially in Oregon, where it could never survive in the wild because Pacific Northwest waters are far too cold for it.
The commission, which meets today in North Bend, was expected to send it to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists for study, review and recommendation by the Wildlife Integrity Panel in a process the agency most recently used to allow the farming of tilapia two years ago.
With high omega-3 content, barramundi is one of the world's most aquacultured fish and considered a healthier fish to eat than tilapia.
"It'll be difficult to grow in Oregon, but we'll give it a go — if we're allowed," Camel says. "It's a high-value fish and there's no risk to the environment."
Rick Boatner, the ODFW's invasive species coordinator, has recommended the commission start the review by the panel.
Boatner says he initially was skeptical of allowing into Oregon a fish "that will eat anything that fits in its mouth."
But knowing barramundi cannot survive in waters under 60 degrees, needs to be raised indoors to ensure optimum water temperatures in the mid-80s and cannot survive to spawn in the ocean, Boatner says the fish deserve a look.
"For Oregon in a closed system, I think they'd be OK," Boatner says. "If they escape, they'll only live a month or two. They're an interesting critter."
Barramundi are common native fish in Asia and northern Australia, where in the wild they can live to be 20 years old and grow as long as 6 feet and weigh as much as 130 pounds. Their life cycle is the mirror opposite of Pacific Northwest salmon because they spawn in the ocean and move into freshwater to grow and mature.
They are a protrandrous hermaphroditic, meaning they are all born male but transform into females anywhere from age 6 to 8 years. With firm meat and a mild taste, they are farmed throughout the world and are also a popular game fish.
A handful of states, such as Texas, Florida and Michigan, currently allow barramundi farming, according to the ODFW.
Camel says his closed system will use little water and he expects to grow barramundi from fingerlings to market size — about 2.5 pounds — in anywhere from eight months to a year.
Camel's facility, which he completed last fall, is about 2,000 square feet and re-uses its own water.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at email@example.com.