You could say Sara Rademaker is breaking a glass ceiling. In her case, it would be the glass eel ceiling.
Back in 2014, Rademaker launched American Unagi to shift eel cultivation to American soil, where the eels are from. Now, she’s raising glass eels from elvers to commercial size in a land-based recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) in Walpole, Maine.
When she began thinking about an aquaculture play, Rademaker had a couple of requirements. Whatever she ultimately chose to cultivate had to be land-based, and it had to be a Maine product. She turned towards eels in part because of the novelty, and partly because she saw an opportunity to do things better. And with a lot less shipping.
The vast majority of eels that American consumers buy, mostly for consumption in sushi restaurants as unagi, are imported. The current model primarily in use for eel production sees baby eels exported to Asian countries where they are grown to market size and then reimported. Along the way, there’s a fair amount of uncertainty – such as whether the eels have been treated with hormones and antibiotics – throughout that process.