Study says water plant can be converted into fish farm

- A study released Tuesday concludes that a wastewater treatment plant in downtown St. Petersburg can be converted into a premium fish farm.

At the farm, fish would be "raised in optimal growing conditions, which promote their most rapid naturally occurring growth without the use of chemicals, hormones or medicines."

The study also found that the conversion of the Albert Whitted Wastewater Treatment Plant would take about 18 months and cost about $18 million. 

Within two years, production could reach more than two million pounds. 

"Two million pounds of fish may sound like a lot, (until) you start to understand the tons of seafood that each restaurant can go through," local restaurateur Steve Westphal told FOX 13.

Mayor Rick Kriseman said the initial findings answered his initial questions.

"I was really interested to see, can they do it? Does it make sense to re-utilize the facilities? What kind of fish?" Kriseman said. 

He confirmed the city will now proceed with the next step outlined in the study.

"This isn't something that's going to happen come January. It's going to take longer than that," Kriseman said.

Westphal joins a list of fish farm advocates, primarily from the airport's neighboring marine science community. 

Re-purposing the facility will save the city more than $2 million in demolition costs, assuming another study of the city's entire wastewater system does not suggest reopening the largely decommissioned plant. 

Several years ago, the city decided to redirect the waste water flowing to Albert Whitted to other treatment plants. Unusually heavy rains last summer forced a temporary reopening and prompted the study of the whole system. 

"I think we're at that point where it would be extremely difficult to turn back and try to bring that plant back to life," Kriseman said.

He added that the demolition was already on hold because of last summer's overflow issues.

The study said possible species from the fish farm include redfish, sea bass, sheepshead, tilapia and later, in a new structure, oysters or scallops.

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