Bend man wants Oregon’s OK to farm tropical perch

MEDFORD, Ore. — A fish farmer has asked for state permission to raise a voracious tropical perch that grows to 6 feet in the wild but couldn’t survive Oregon’s cold water if it escaped.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission is expected to request a study under a process used to allow tilapia farming two years ago.

Robert Camel of Bend wants to raise barramundi at an indoor fish farm in Tumalo, the Medford Mail Tribune reported.

He considers it a high-value fish, with high omega-3 content, firm flesh and mild taste.

“It’ll be difficult to grow in Oregon, but we’ll give it a go — if we’re allowed,” Camel said.

The barramundi is commonly farmed worldwide. A handful of other states, such as Texas, Florida and Michigan, allow barramundi farming, state wildlife officials said.

Camel said he expects to grow barramundi from fingerlings to market size, about 2.5 pounds, in eight months to a year. The farm re-uses its water, he said.

The barramundi is native in Asia and northern Australia and in the wild can live 20 years and grow to 130 pounds.

It changes sex at six to eight years, turning from male to female. Its life cycle is the mirror opposite of Northwest salmon — the fish spawn in the ocean and move inland to mature.

Oregon’s invasive species coordinator, Rick Boatner, said he was skeptical at first of allowing a fish “that will eat anything that fits in its mouth.”

But he said barramundi cannot survive in waters cooler than 60 degrees, needs to be raised indoors to ensure optimum water temperatures in the mid-80s, and cannot survive to spawn in the ocean, so they deserve a look.

“For Oregon in a closed system, I think they’d be OK,” he said. “If they escape, they’ll only live a month or two. They’re an interesting critter.”

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