Farming Outside the Box: Veta La Palma

A Farm That Doesn’t Feed Its Animals

Veta La Palma is a fish farm, among other things, located on an island ten miles inland of the Atlantic Ocean on the Guadalquivir River. In the 1980’s, Argentine farmers failed to build a successful beef-cattle farm on its wetlands. They built a system of canals to drain the wetlands so the cattle could live off of the land, but the expenses were too great and the ecological effects were too devastating to control. Around ninety percent of the birds died and the ecosystem began to collapse.

After the cattle business failed, Veta La Palma opened up the gates to the canals and flooded its 27,000 acre space to become a fish farm. The ecosystem has recovered and is so healthy that the fish, which include sea bass, meagre and sole, eat naturally occurring shrimp and other aquatic invertebrates. This means that the farmers do not have to feed their fish.

Healthy fish, however, mean healthy predators. The bird population, mainly flamingos, has regrown and flourished on a diet of shrimp and fish since the wetlands were flooded. In a TIME interview Miguel Medialdea from Veta La Palma said, “They take about 20% of our annual yield, but that just shows the whole system is working.” And so the farmers determine the success of their farm by the health of its predatory population, an interesting irony in the world of aquaculture.

Another benefit of the farm’s ecological health is the micro algae and other plant life in the water, which pulls much of the excess fertilizer runoff out of the waters that flow into the farm from the Guadalquivir. The water that leaves the farm is cleaner than when it entered.

And so Veta La Palma is not only an extremely efficient fish farm, harvesting 1,200 tons of fish a year, it has inadvertently become a refuge for hundreds of thousands of migrating aquatic birds and has a positive impact on the surrounding environment.

This truly seems like a positive future for aquaculture.

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