Great Salt Lake Artemia harvester watercraft harvesting brine shrimp eggs during winter harvest season. Courtesy Great Salt Lake Artemia.
Great Salt Lake Artemia harvester watercraft harvesting brine shrimp eggs during winter harvest season. Courtesy Great Salt Lake Artemia.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah may be a state without an ocean, but the Beehive state is becoming known, and relied upon, across the globe for its seafood.

A tiny shrimp that thrives in the dense, hyper-saline Great Salt Lake, holds the key to farming the fish that increasingly feed the world and is another reason why environmentalists and economists say the lake needs to thrive.

"It's critical to global food supply," explained Tim Hawkes, General Counsel of the Great Salt Lake Brine Shrimp Cooperative. "I think it's something people don't even recognize. But it's interesting to me... I've been to places like Vietnam and you're just talking to a little mom-and-pop shrimp farm...They will ask you about the Great Salt Lake, because it's so essential to their life and their livelihood."

Tiny brine shrimp, once sold in the back of Boys Life magazine as the Sea Monkey, now have a much more valuable use as farmed fish and other seafood like crabs, prawns, shrimp, sea bass, snapper and tropical species rely on this little reddish brown shrimp at the earliest parts of their lifecycles.

"They can be fed to baby shrimp and fish and sort of baby food for baby shrimp and fish is kind of the best way to think about what the end use is," Hawkes explained.

The seafood you buy even in local stores in Utah was most likely raised on brine shrimp from the Great Salt Lake.

As the global population is expected to grow by nearly two billion people over the next three decades, serious questions are being posed about how to feed the world with our changing climate and conflicts in some of the world's critical food-producing regions.

Hawkes reports the Great Salt Lake alone produces 40 to 45 percent of the world's brine shrimp, employing fewer than 200 people here but supporting an estimated ten million metric tons of seafood and a lot of family-owned fish farms in countries from Africa and Asia to South America.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations believes that industrial fish farming will be critical to preventing hunger in the future.

"It really is critical to global food supply," Hawkes said. "If we lost the Great Salt Lake or we lost the ability to produce brine shrimp from the Great Salt Lake, it would have significant impact on our ability to feed the world."

It's no secret the Great Salt Lake has shrunk dramatically over the decades and experts say the shrinking lake has an impact on the shrimp that live there.

"The things that live in Great Salt Lake, they like it salty, but they don't like it too salty," explained Dr. Bonnie Baxter, Director of the Great Salt Lake Institute. "So last year, we reached a point where it got too salty and the algae were struggling to feed the brine shrimp and the brine flies and they themselves were struggling."

However, Baxter is encouraged by recent discussions and action to try to solve the problem.

"I think the state is taking it very seriously, the establishment of a Great Salt Lake commissioner in the governor's office is a big step," she reflected. "I think that the legislative session spending so much time on thinking about water is a really important step."

FOX13 News Anchor
Dan is a graduate of Cal State Fullerton, which at the time was one of the top broadcasting programs in the country. (Hopefully that won’t give away his age!) Dan started his career in Yakima, Washington. His job then took him to Palm Springs and Jacksonville, Florida before heading back to Salt Lake City. Dan actually attended East High School for a while. Dan works as a co-anchor anchor for "Good Day Utah" on FOX 13 News. He started out at Cal State studying pre-med but once he met his wife, he switched to broadcasting. She still married him and now they are the proud parents of four wonderful children. The outdoors is where you will find Dan when he is not behind the anchor desk. He loves to motocross, snow ski, water ski, surf and anything else that has to do with the water.

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