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BUHL • Oysters plucked from the cold waters of Puget Sound are alive in the sagebrush-covered hills just outside Buhl. Just find the sign that reads “shrimp and oysters” and follow the arrow to Don Campbell’s First Ascent Fish Farm.

Campbell has owned First Ascent since 1986. Over the years the farm’s products have diversified to compete in the changing landscape of aquaculture. The farm started out raising trout and switched to catfish. Then when the company could no longer compete with catfish imported from Vietnam it switched to tilapia, a fish found in the warm waters of Africa and the Mediterranean.

But no matter the type of fish swimming in First Ascent’s tanks, Campbell’s wholesale and retail customers get what they want no matter where they are — even if that means transporting live tilapia 10 hours to Seattle by truck.

“We ship 52 weeks out of the year,” Campbell said.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, workers load up 2,000 pounds of tilapia that travel 2,700 miles to 14 family-owned stores and restaurants in Seattle. First Ascent does not deliver in Idaho because there are few restaurants and stores with tanks, but locals can buy the tilapia by visiting the farm.

Live tilapia is in demand, said Gary Fornshell, University of Idaho aquaculture extension educator. “Tilapia is the fifth most consumed seafood in the U.S.”

Campbell’s business is not the only fish farm in Idaho that live-hauls its product; Fornshell estimated there are about five fish farms that sell live fish to local customers in the Magic Valley. But First Ascent is one of the few family-owned farms in Magic Valley that deal strictly with live seafood and, Fornshell believes, the [...]