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Groton — Restaurant patrons in Connecticut may soon see locally raised fish on the menu thanks to the work of some enterprising high school students in Groton and a new law that allows aquaculture facilities to sell to seafood distributors and restaurants.
Following the ceremonial signing of an agreement Monday with Grossman’s Seafood of Groton, students from the Marine Science Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut plucked 400 tilapia and 200 rainbow trout from holding tanks in the school’s aquaculture lab.
The squirming fish were at times tough to handle and juggled by the students who worked to measure and weigh the fish before transferring them by bucket to ice-filled coolers in preparation for shipment to Grossman’s.
The fish arrived a year ago as 1-inch fry and were nurtured to an edible size by students.
“It’s been a long process and now that it’s finally here, it’s a bit sad. We had them as itty bitty babies,” said sophomore Kate Green, who stood with a clipboard, logging the sizes of the fish.
“It’s gratifying to see all our work coming together,” she said.
Monday’s sale would not have been possible a year ago. There was no law allowing for the inspection and licensing process for a facility like that at the school to sell any type of aquatic animal as food.
“I’ll let you know how it tastes,” said state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, who introduced the bill in March and took a tour of the facility with other legislators and state officials Monday.
David Carey, state director of the bureau of aquaculture, said the Groton school is one of two — the other in Bridgeport — with a permit that enables them to raise and sell their fish as food. Other facilities raise fish, he said, but most of those fish are used for stocking lakes and streams.
He said the school is in some ways laying the groundwork for what someday could be large-scale commercial farming operations. The school must abide by the rules of a number of regulatory branches, including the state departments of health and consumer protection.
“It’s not easy to grow fish. There is a lot of science involved. It’s remarkable how really into this they are,” Carey said of the students “Aquaculture is a growing field. I see a lot of opportunity for the students here.”
High School Aquaculture Director Eric Litvinoff said students throughout the year were involved in tracking behavior of the fish, monitoring survival and growth rates and checking water quality, among a host of other duties. In the end, they will be able to calculate what it cost to raise the fish and compare it to the wholesale market price.
School Principal Nicholas Spera said all the proceeds from the sale will go back into school aquaculture programs. The two-year-old high school has 178 students and a curriculum that strongly emphasizes the marine sciences. Along with the trout and tilapia, students are raising hybrid striped bass and plan to start oysters later this year.
Grossman’s general manager, Sean Coleman, said the fish are likely to end up in a restaurant somewhere in New London County. Grossman’s sells fish to more than 200 restaurants daily.