Duluth Woman Pioneers Ethical Tilapia Farming Industry

By KBJR News 1

December 28, 2011 Updated Dec 28, 2011 at 12:38 PM CDT

Sustainable seems to be a term that's turned "Vogue", as people rush to have it attached to their name, and associated with their brand.

But for some, it's more than a word, it's a commitment.

And for Magdalena Wallhoff, conscious consumerism is a business she knows well, and loves deeply.

From her home office in Duluth, Magdalena is running a successful global company that is by every definition of the word completely sustainable. But she still struggles with how to define it.

"Do you use balanced, do you call it revitalizing? It's hard. I just call it the regal way."

The regal way--for Regal Springs Tilapia--means going into pristine water bodies and raising fish in a humane netted area. No additives, no antibiotics, and virtually no human footprint.

"Our point is to raise the best tilapia, and to build communities, that's our mission," she says.

Regal Springs connects with governments who are not only willing, but eager, to have them come in and build a tilapia farming community.

They currently have communities in Indonesia, Honduras and now, Mexico.

"And it's not even they are here to help us, but it's they are part of our community and we are all here to farm fish."

Community because the company not only builds the farming area and teaches the locals how to fish, but they build clinics and schools where they employ doctors and teachers.

The bones and extra meat of the processed fish are sold to make fish oil and fish meal, the excess parts are used to compost local rice fields, and the fish waste is even used to make biodiesel.

"Seeing our own trucks running on our own fuel is very rewarding."

Magdalena even spear-heads a tilapia leather company, VALDE. They make belts, knifes, and other leather goods from tilapia skin cured in Italy.

She wants to show other business people that you can make money, while making a difference.

"For profit can do this," she says.

By choice, she hasn't been getting paid recently.

"The company has done very well financially but that's not the greatest pay back. The greatest payback is when I'm walking through a forest that we've re-forested in Honduras and they're singing songs about our company that they made up and they say when I'm eighteen I'm going to work at the fish farms. That's luxury. What else would you work for."

Although their fish is raised elsewhere, it is sold in the United States to food distributors as large as Costco and as nearby as Mt. Royal Fine Foods in Duluth.

Written by Courtney Godfrey