Study of local agriculture extends to fish bellies

Jul. 24, 2014 @ 05:41 AM

Underneath the murky brown water, prehistoric-looking creatures swam with gaping mouths and aimlessly staring eyes. Their bodies were long and bony with flat fins and long noses. They moved about in huge cement pools, swarming underneath the mouths of automatic feeders, at a warehouse in Happy Valley. Huge black nets spanned across the pools to keep the gigantic fish from jumping over the sides; every so often a sharp splash echoed through the warehouse when a fish got excited and jumped into the nets.

These fish look like something straight out of a child’s nightmare, but the children who came to see them with Caldwell County 4-H thought they were “cool.”

“They’re pretty,” said Kaitlynn Burnett, 11.

“I think the fish are pretty awesome because of how big they are,” said Alex Cassavaugh, 10.

The group of kids visited Atlantic Caviar & Sturgeon Co., which sells caviar and meat from Russian, Atlantic and Siberian sturgeon. The sturgeon are hatched in Asheville, then shipped here to grow up in nursery tanks. As they mature, the fish are moved to bigger tanks, separated by species.

Hope Bryont, production manager at Atlantic, spends her days studying and testing the fish to see if they are carrying caviar, which are fish eggs.

“I pretty much play with fish all day long,” Bryont said. “It’s a really fun job.”

The 4-H tour was part of Explore Caldwell County Agriculture activity week. The children have also visited a dairy goat farm and a tree nursery. Darlene Berry, extension agent for 4-H youth development, said the week gives the club members an opportunity to learn about how Caldwell County functions agriculturally.

“It’s all about our community and where we live and our food supply and future careers for our kids,” Berry said. “And since we all like to eat and have pretty yards . . . it’s an every day part of our lives. We want to make sure we’re connected with it.”

After meeting the fish, the children learned about the caviar, how each species' caviar has a different taste, and the proper way of eating the delicacy. They were allowed to take some with them as a treat after lunch.

Mack Waters, 11, said he might want to work at a sturgeon farm one day. After hearing Bryont’s story about going to North Carolina State University, Waters believes he will want to study fisheries, wildlife and conversation biology, too.

“I think it would be pretty fun,” Waters said.