AquacultureTalent respects all who contribute to the aquaculture, fisheries and seafood industries and some people stand out. This week in the "Spotlight" we feature Katie Harris, President of the U.S. Trout Farmers Association and President of Mt. Lassen Trout located in spring water abundant northern California, U.S. Please enjoy this feature about one of very few women in aquaculture.
When I first met Katie Harris in early 2020 (pre-COVID-19) at the Sportsman's Expo in Sacramento, California, she immediately struck me as approachable, informative, and warm. Within a ten-minute conversation, we, both women who appreciate fish, were talking about the industry, growth of the industry and made plans to talk more.
I planned to go up to see the facility in Northern California, looking forward to an exciting tour of their multiple locations, but then we were stuck. I, isolated indoors at my computer, reaching out to fisheries, aquaculture, and seafood companies from the comfort of home, and she outside working the farm, breathing the fresh air; the trout don't rest.
Three months later, I had the honor of "meeting" with Katie over video chat to get to know her, one of the pioneer children of the inland, freshwater fisheries industry. She has an exciting story, one from a woman's perspective on the industry which includes, family, values, business, and new possibilities.
Katie is one of very few women in the aquaculture industry today. Making up about 5% of the total U.S. aquaculture professionals, women in this growing industry are hard to find, but being a woman has not necessarily been a barrier to entry in this profession, it may be that like much farm work, it is labor intensive and commonly managed and dominated by males.
They just typically go into the industry more often than females. Life always takes its own course and for Katie, it led to running the largest trout farm in California.
Mt Lassen Trout is a five-generation farm created in 1949 in the most Northern counties of California. With abundant resources of fresh spring water, open land, and fresh air, Mt Lassen has grown into a thriving business supplying fine restaurant-quality trout and steelhead as well as stocking private lakes throughout California.
Trout farming runs deep in her DNA. Nestled on some of the best land California has to offer, Katie grew up with her brothers, and both parents running the farm and she would "bug the trout farm guys" doing menial tasks, cleaning up and doing office jobs, never looking to run things one day.
Upon completion of High School, Katie attended the University of Oregon on a softball scholarship (she loves sports) and earned a degree in English Literature, and a Master's in Education. She thought she would be an educator, but life tends to pull us along. She had a family of her own and then the kids started growing up.
A stay-at-home mother, the kids went off to school and Katie with time on her hands found herself helping out at the farm again and taking on more roles for about five years. Up until two years ago, Dad, having years in the industry and wanting to retire, saw how passionate Katie was about the farm and fisheries and spoke with her about becoming his successor.
He looked to Katie who enjoyed her freedom without ownership, and she finally obliged and took over managing the farm and became the President of the company.
Family is so important to Katie, that the deciding factor in accepting her father's offer was that she could maintain flexibility to raise her kids as she did not want to work full-time. As a mother and a businesswoman, Katie respects the importance and balance of family life, so the employees get this flexibility from Katie.
Since taking the reins, Katie has taken on new important responsibilities watching over the company and its employees. "We have a small crew. They have families that play sports and have activities." She has to ensure they have the freedom that is so important to her and she has to keep "the big picture in mind and look after the future of the company. I have to take care of the people who take care of us." There are so many people who are in this industry just like Katie and her crew experiencing family, growth, and organic change.
Katie stays busy with the industry sharing her expertise and collaborative, positive spirit as the President of U.S. Trout Farmers Association She is also a Board member for the Tehama County Farm Bureau, a Lassen Park Foundation Board Member and stays extremely busy educating her local community about aquaculture in schools, fairs, and special events.
"Trout has traditionally been a commodity instead of a premium" and Katie with those in the trout industry are looking to change that image. Raising the best, healthiest and strongest trout is their goal. When they hit the water of a pond they need to perform. Mt. Lassen Trout have that ability because of the ideal environment they are raised.
Diners do not generally order a trout off the menu, but looking towards the future, Katie wants to start a national campaign for trout – people should eat more trout! It is so good! Chefs are finding ways to move it into the mainstream. People love it.
One thing we spoke about in our interview was the need to collectively promote each other in the industry. From fisherman off the shore to inland hatcheries, U.S. grown aquaculture has the ability to thrive. In the U.S., ninety percent of all fish we eat comes from out of the country. Buying local, fresh, farm-raised fish is not only safe, but good for the industry.
Katie encourages women to go into aquaculture and seafood related positions but said that the women she interacts within the industry do not want to be identified as women in the industry. She recently hired a woman Hatchery Manager. The core human principles of "Value yourself…Value your colleagues…Value diversity…Value different perspectives," is what they want to bring to the industry. "Everyone needs to work together and share the common story." Her advice to newcomers/other women in the industry: "Go out and talk about the industry; be present in it; be a mentor to others growing in the field and an ambassador in your industry." Katie has such a wonderful spirit and is passionate about industry collaboration. She is very excited about the future of Aquaculture.
Thank you to Katie for working with AQUACULTURETALENT on this piece.