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Something’s a little fishy in Marvel

Startup tilapia farm has big plans

Kyle Wilcox holds one of his Mozambique hybrid tilapia. Wilcox is raising the fish at his Marvel farm. He will begin selling his live fish at the Durango Farmers Market on Saturday. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Kyle Wilcox holds one of his Mozambique hybrid tilapia. Wilcox is raising the fish at his Marvel farm. He will begin selling his live fish at the Durango Farmers Market on Saturday.

A small trailer in unincorporated Marvel, 20 miles southwest of Durango, might seem an unlikely place for a fledgling fishery. But Kyle Wilcox is hoping his homegrown schools of tilapia catch on.

Wilcox has been raising tilapia since October and will unveil them to the public Saturday at the Durango Farmers Market. The 2-pound raw fish yield about 1 pound of fillets, and will be sold either alive in bags of water and oxygen, or on ice for the squeamish.

“Right now, I have to sell the fish whole. I can’t process them, gut them or skin them without a (Department of Agriculture) inspected facility,” he said.

More than 90 percent of tilapia consumed in the United States is imported, said Kevin Fitzsimmons, a biologist at the University of Arizona. Wilcox is looking to offer a local, fresher alternative that has not traveled thousands of miles. He keeps the water temperature a constant 80 degrees using solar coils and a boiler powered by beetle-killed piñon.

“It’s like they just came off the fishing boat,” he said.

The new company is called Global Premium Tilapia Inc., a lofty name for an operation that is now so small. But to Wilcox, it represents his philosophy of “global thinking and local acting.”

Although tilapia are lower in doctor-recommended Omega-3 fatty acids than other fish species, they do have other health benefits in their favor.

“(Tilapia) accumulate fewer toxins because of their diet, short lifespan, low body-fat percentage and high metabolic rate,” Wilcox said.

The most notorious fish toxin is methylmercury, an industrial by-product that accumulates in species higher up the food chain, such as tuna and swordfish. The Food and Drug Administration has urged pregnant women and nursing mothers to avoid eating high-mercury fish and seafood because of links to impaired neurological development in young children. Tilapia are considered a safer option.

Mikel Love, a registered dietician with Peak Wellness & Nutrition, supports the idea.

“Fish, in general, are a great source of low-fat protein, tilapia included,” she said. “The local aspect is fantastic, too. We aren’t freezing and shipping them across the world.”

After testing the waters this summer, Wilcox plans to expand his business considerably. He currently works full-time in Farmington for an environmental company that cleans hazardous-waste sites but intends to make fish farming his primary income.

“Right now, this is a pilot project. Next year, we’re looking at growing 100,000 pounds and expanding from 2,000 gallons of tank space to 45,000 gallons,” he said.

To accommodate the greater volume, Wilcox will move from the current 384-square-foot trailer into a separate greenhouse facility now in the early stages of construction. He already has contacted processors and distributors on the Front Range who then will market his fish to regional grocery stores and restaurants.

“I want this to be an economically viable operation,” he said.

lgroskopf@durangoherald.com

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