Goin’ fishing: Westfield Fish Farm project keeps eye on future sustainability

State Sen. Cathy Young, right, dumps fish into the sustainable fish farm Friday as Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul looks on. The two were among several governmental dignitaries that came to Westfield Friday to witness a one-of-a-kind, high-tech fish production facility.

WESTFIELD — Government officials gathered in Westfield on Friday to witness an investment into the future.

Behind the Five and 20 Spirits and Brewing building community members watched and listened as the new fish farm and sustainability project was recognized by numerous guest speakers and then was officially opened. Guest speakers included Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, state Sen. Cathy Young, Assemblyman Andy Goodell and County Executive Vince Horrigan. Mario Mazzo, vice president and general manager of the company also gave a speech.

“I feel that this county is on the cusp of a whole new era,” Hochul said about the importance of this collaboration and innovation. “And it’s the businesses like these … when other people see what we’re doing right here in Westfield, at this facility, I think it’s going to send a message if you want smart, hardworking people who can innovate, create, make new jobs, this is the place you want to come.”

The sustainability project is a collaboration between Five and 20 Spirits and Brewing and the technology company TimberFish Technologies. The purpose of the joint venture is to create a fish farm that safely re-uses stillage waste from wineries and breweries in order to sustain and produce life for fish.

Development researcher Jennifer Russo talked about the process and her expectations for the future.

“We need sustainable, ecological and economically safe technology to support that,” Russo said. “And here in Western New York is fantastic.”

Russo explained that the microbes from the wood chips are mixed with the treated stillage waste to create a combination that will then be fed to the fishes that were dumped into tanks Friday morning.

“On the woodchips grows a bacteria, the bacteria are decomposers, the decomposers eat all the nutrients that come from that stillage and then there’s macro invertebrates, like worms and larva, that eat that and then those fall into the tanks and feed the fish,” Russo explained.

The waste created from the fish is then treated and reused and then the process continues. “It’s sort of like a closed system,” Russo said.

Why does this need to happen and why is it important? Managing Partner Jere Northrop had the answer.

“We are very concerned about rising population and environmental pollution and the threat that that poses to the future food supply and safety for the world,” Northrop said. “We feel that the only real solution to that is to develop Eco technologies such as TimberFish which can stand on their own economically in today’s market.”

Young, Goodell and Horrigan all shared their enthusiasm with the crowd. A big theme of everyone’s speech was that it was investing in Western New York and boosting the local economy.

“I think it’s just phenomenal that it’s come to this point and I want to thank this company for investing in Westfield,” Young said.

“We’re at the beginning but we look forward to Chautauqua County, once again, leading the nation in new technologies, and new processes and new economic development, so thanks to all of you who had a part in this,” Goodell said.

The fish farm was given a $100,000 grant from New York State while TimberFish invested over $500,000 of their own money.

Not associated with the project and in attendance was Jack McGowan, who said he was familiar with the founders of this project and was there to see the idea come to fruition. More importantly, he said he wanted to see if it would work.

“Today, where they got a working system and they’re going to be introducing the fish is really critical to prove that this technology works,” McGowan said. “Once they do that, then, it should be less difficult to receive funding to scale it up and turn it into a larger business where they’re going to be selling fish and selling the system to potential users.”

The members of TimberFish and Five and 20 Spirits and Brewery emphasized that fact that this project doesn’t end now, it will push on throughout the year. Russo didn’t necessarily have any concerns besides one.

“My only concern is that it’s going to get too big so fast and we’re going to have to catch up,” Russo said half humorously, half serious.