‘If the Great Salt Lake went away, the world would be poorer for it’: How Utah’s terminal lake helps feed the world

No one anticipates a career in the brine shrimp industry. Timothy Hawkes certainly didn’t. He found himself working as the legal counsel for the Great Salt Lake Brine Shrimp Cooperative nearly seven years ago, shortly after joining the Utah Legislature. Now, he finds himself speaking at a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization-sponsored panel on the potential of the Great Salt Lake to produce enough brine shrimp to feed the world.

Utah has long struggled to find its place on the global stage, and despite its agricultural products and energy potential, the real attention it’s received has been for the seafood industry. The world population is expected to grow significantly in the coming years, creating the need for more sustainable food sources. The United Nations believes that industrial fish farming will be crucial to preventing hunger, and popular carnivorous species like shrimp and fish rely on artemia, or brine shrimp, for survival.

The Great Salt Lake is the world’s largest source of brine shrimp, and Utah’s industry supplies an estimated 10 million metric tons of seafood globally, supporting both big corporations and small family-owned farms in developing economies. Artemia, despite being a relatively recent development in aquaculture, has proved to be a crucial food source for farmed fish due to its adaptability to extreme environments and shelf stability when dry.

The Great Salt Lake’s significance continues to grow in the industry, even as other sources of artemia have emerged. The lake’s importance led to the adoption of a management model that regulates the harvest of brine shrimp cysts to ensure sustainability, making Utah’s brine shrimp industry a vital global player.

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