Holy Crap! Detroit’s Fish Farming Franchise To Bring Jobs (and Doo Doo)

TilapiaDetroiters need jobs. That’s a fact. And an Ohio-based fish farming company named Aqua Nourish needs a new place to raise fish. That’s another fact.

Enter Recovery Park, a non-profit geared to help revitalize Detroit through innovative job creation projects.

A match:  Gary Wozniac, President and CEO of Recovery Park, is the matchmaker.

Wozniac is currently brokering a deal with Aqua Nourish, a for-profit company, to operate a fish farm in Detroit under the brand name of Recovery Park.

Wozniak compared this business model to a fast-food franchise. “If you want to sell McDonald’s you have to sell under the McDonald’s umbrella,” he said. The only difference between a McDonald’s franchise and a Recovery Park one is the non-profit aspect. Aqua Nourish would be selling Tilapia and making money under the Recovery Park umbrella.

In exchange, the tilapia farm Wozniac had envisioned as a job maker in struggling Detroit communities suddenly became a fiscal possibility: Aqua Nourish will pay for everything from the building to, most importantly, the workforce.

The plan is to raise five million pounds of tilapia every year and provide tons of live, fresh food to local communities while creating jobs for people in need.

There are still some kinks to be worked out. And if all goes according to plan, time is short: “If Oct. 1st were the day we inked everything, nine months from that you could be buying Detroit Tilapia,” Wozniac said.


The Waste Issue:

Five million pounds of fish means millions of living things producing waste at an alarming rate: Wozniac projects that the fish will create more than a million pounds every month.

To solve that problem, Wozniac and his team are exploring a model to use the fish poo as an asset and turn it into energy. It would be a biodigestive system that would turn organic waste decomposition into steam that powers a turbine. This has the potential to power 25,00 homes, Wozniac estimates.

Still, the bio-digestion system is a complex project in itself that will take time and Wozniac says is part of the big picture.

“Getting the fish up and running is a huge project,” he said. “Initially the waste just going to go down the drain. But we’re not going to have five million pounds of fish right away.”

Wozniak said that was no exact timeline for getting the fish waste out of the sewage system, but it is a high priority and all options are being explored, from aquaponics to composting opportunities and, direct fertilizer options. “Fish waste is a commodity. It’s not like human waste,” Wozniac said, adding that environmentally sound practices are crucial to Recovery Park and its endeavors.


The Collective Ownership Conundrum:

The aim of Recovery Park is not just to create hourly wage jobs but to be a business opportunity for workers to eventually collectively own businesses. After three years, employees at Recovery Park businesses can buy into be part owners for only $ 3,000.

“You do well by working a job, you do great by owning a job,” Wozniac says.

But the tilapia farm, that Wozniac calls Recovery Park’s signature project, makes collective ownership tricky, if not impossible due to the franchise setup. “We’re working on that model,” Wozniac said. “We haven’t completely worked that out. It’s too early.”

Still, plans for the fish farm are zooming along. Three sites are being considered for the project, namely the currently abandoned Detroit Water and Sewage plant on the corner of Erskine and Orleans in Eastern Market.

Possible fish farm location


The Bottom Line: Jobs

 Recovery Park Jobs Model

The bottom line for Wozniac and Recovery Park is creating jobs for people who need them most, and who in other circumstances would be out of work. Recovering addicts, people released from prison often can’t find work or facing other hardships.

Now that the match has been made between Recovery Park and Aqua Nourish, a new kind of business model is being born. “We’re breaking a lot of ground,” Wozniac said. “We’re trying to push a lot of envelopes on how business can be advanced.”



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