Fish Farming is not for Ladies

Diary of a previously urban savvy, social sciences graduate turned rural lady fish farmer

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Rich and slender American men

Well, the public face of the farm is ready. Cleaned and polished to the edge of sterility. Not even seriously deep sniffs would uncover even a faint suggestion of the fishy odours expected in this kind of setting.

The fish swim silently and are splendid in their grey silver-ishness, comfortably visible through the large glass window of the "viewing room"which sits a metre or so above the pools.

Here, small groups of rich and slender potential American investors sit in air-conditioned comfort sipping just-cooled lemon flavoured mineral water from non-disposable cups. Between delicate sips and polite nods in acknowledgement to the "persuader" who sits across the giant conference table, their curious eyes are drawn to the silent aquatic parade beyond the glass.

The first to emerge from the "selling room" to the stifling humidity of the fish-keeping area releases a fold of shirtsleeve as he extends his smooth slender hand towards mine. He addresses me as "madam". Madam ? Distinctly not a born-n-bred American voice. Probably one of those prosperous new-wave immigrants to the US whose origins could be one of the states of the former Soviet Union. But he tall enough that I need to look up to meet his gaze .

Someone meticulously ironed his upmarket beige cargo pants . I remember noticing a deep blue BMW in the newly-concreted car park. Perhaps the BMW company designs its' car seats so that ironed clothing retains its creases.

As an increasingly visible set of sweat begins to bead over his unlined forehead, I swing into an animated response to a question about the causes of fish stress, drawing on lessons learned in a $150 weekend drama workshop attended in the distant past.

To wit-vary the pitch of your voice to maintain attention, smile and make eye contact when you want your remark to penetrate and be retained.

Flirt delicately to sell fish. Easy when you are addressed as "madam"..

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Is raising fish sexy ?

Most definitely. The way we do it, it is.
Because we raise these creatures undercover, and use recirculated biologically treated water, no nasty, polluting wastes are discharged into our environment.
It's clean, green and environmentally responsible .
Now, that's hot.. ( nod to Paris )
Picture this. OK. Here in summer the temperature can rise to 35C, with an accompanying drooping humidity.
Summer is considered the high season in fish farming, because the fish grow readily and rapidly especially so in our rather intensive system, where really, it could be said the fish are hand-reared. They are hungry little buggers..
Because we want to be rich after selling them, we got to make sure they are raised under the best possible conditions. 5-star care.
So, careful and constant attention is given to all details related to growing parameters.
Most important is the amount of oxygen the fish have available. In fact, if the fish pool oxygen supply falls below a certain critical level, a stupendous ear-splitting alarm is activated, loud enough to wake my ancestors and yours.
High external temperatures have an adverse effect on the oygen levels. So.....the hotter it is, the less oxygen there is. High school science..
Yet I digress. The point of this is - if it's hot and humid outside, then it is at least 2-5 degrees more so inside the fish-raising igloo.
Thus 35 C becomes 37-40C. Women working under these conditions, like men, feel hot .They tend to fantasise about snow and perhaps chilled watermelon , not each other.
However, it is well known that when it's hot, generally you try to wear as little as possible to keep you cool, right ?
Right- one usually wears the kind of clothing I outlined in yesterday's blog post.
So we all sweat ( or perspire, dear) but when women wear T-shirts, and the body struggles to cool itself by sweating, what happens ?
What happens is similar for both genders of course, but for ladies, you get an unintended wet T-shirt situation - that's what you get.
No wonder that the guy who delivers the diesel fuel for the farm's back-up electricity generator speaks to my chest...
Who said raising fish isn't sexy ?

Friday, August 15, 2008

So..what's this all about ?

OK. Here I am, midsummer in this dry hot climate, snatching a few minutes here to share all this with you before another day at the farm.

As I emerge from the bathroom, my gaze lingers on my long unused make-up box. The mascara within its' slim wand has probably disintegrated into brittle grey crumbs after so many months of neglect.

Fumbling around the closet for yet another one of my faded overlaundered T-shirts with scissored-off sleeves ( gives me the appearance of a seasoned truck driver - you know what I mean..), I catch an unexpected glimpse of myself in the full length mirror.

This is definitely not a delicate reflected image. Rather, it's solid, athletic and unintentionally suntanned with clearly visible little hills of muscle created in a location very distant from the air-conditioned gym.

Someone very close to me had a dream. That dream became the fish farm : that fish could be grown and sold far from any coastalal area. In an environmentally responsible and sustainable way. Sounds noble ? Did I mention that the basis of the whole enterprise was to move us to the next level of financial plenty ? Did I also mention that neither of us had any background at all in aquaculture (that's what it is). He always had superb technical know-how including an ability to create and visualise structures three-dimensionally inside his head.

This, together with an unshakeable belief in the "vision" of a set of 30 fish pools under cover, sustained by recirculating biologically refreshed water in the middle of a large agricultural field within the boundaries of our land produced, amidst inumerable setbacks and not inconsiderable never ending sheer hard work, THE farm. Two large igloo structures, total 48 pools..

So one day, towards the start of all of this, he asks laconically " So, do you want to help raise these fish ? " "Sure !" I replied enthusiastically.

How could I not after it sounded as easy as falling off a bicycle. ( I cannot ride a bicycle)

Easy it was not. I knew nothing. I only ate fish, filleted and purchased prettily packaged, from a supermarket. My background did not give me any clues here either. Dad was not one of those outdoorsy types-he never as I remember expressed any interest in fish or fishing.

I had one undergraduate degree and three-quarters of a Masters - in the social sciences. An experienced Australian coffee-slurping, credit card waving urbanite, uncomfortable with getting my hands even a little bit dirty and of even the tiniest drop of sweat. I was a social science professional, accustomed to "work" being synonymous with sitting in meetings and preparing lengthy erudite reports within large air-conditioned institutions.

Here in Israel, where Hebrew is the lingua franca, jobs for English-speaking Social Science professionals are not exactly plentiful. Time to consider alternatives. With the promise of easy success, I agreed to become part of the fish "team".

The team ? "Hungarian Dan", our pedantic but conflicted resident marine biologist whose task is to guide our practices towards optimising fish health and growth, "M.R.", the edgy and perfectionistic technical visionary, the human engine which drives the whole project forward and "E.N." the ex-Israeli intelligence services spook who calmly supervises the financial aspects.

And of course there is the tall, enigmatic and distinguished locally-based European professor of all that is connected to maintaining a high water quality for our finned investments. The water chemistry expert.

"Joe", our control systems engineer, who has an obvious, andeven obsessive delight in all that is connected to food and eating. Joe would easily be first choice as a participant for the producers of that TV reality series"The Biggest Loser".

Lastly, in the pecking order -me. My only claim to any shred of importance is that the land on which the farm stands belongs to me. A landowner.

A landowner whose functional importance is to ensure that the administrative process hums along, that the fish are fed and that biosecurity is maintained through regular and endless monitoring and cleaning. A lot of cleaning. A lot of sweating.

I am assured that financial rewards are around the corner. Where I am to look for that corner is not specified..

About Me

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Originally Australian-now live in Israel. I am involved in raising edible fish in a new way. Using an environmentally responsible method. Women in this industry are few, especially worldly savvy ones, like me. Let me share it with you. Come for the ride ?