Five years ago, Sidney Center residents Tom and Marie Sellitti, together with their son, Michael, headed for uncharted waters.
The Sellittis launched Skytop Springs Fish Farm, dedicated to sustainably raising and harvesting Kamloops rainbow trout, on their Sidney Center property.
“When a lot of press started coming out about how our food chain is somewhat tainted and seafood, especially, is farmed in other countries, and about the conditions (fish) are farmed in, we just saw an opportunity to start something that focused on sustainable and responsible farming,” Michael Sellitti, 35, said. “There was nothing like that around here.
“We decided pretty early on to focus on rainbow trout, because that’s what we always stocked the ponds with, growing up,” he said. “My dad talked about it for a while, so it’s been an idea of his for a very long time, but it started to become a reality … when we started thinking about conditions in regard to seafood. People are becoming more aware and really wanting to know where their food is coming from and how it’s grown, so we’re fitting in at the right time with what we’re trying to do.”
Sellitti credited visits to the campuses at SUNY Morrisville and SUNY Cobleskill with helping to fine-tune the family’s fish-farming practices. Today, he said, Skytop Springs offers fresh and smoked rainbow trout in varying cuts to local customers, with shipping coming soon and wholesale clientele expected to increase following the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.
“Both (colleges) have fish hatcheries,” he said, “and they were super-welcoming and really helpful in the early stages ... of building a fish farm from the ground up. We had an education in fish farming by just going there and them being so willing and enthusiastic.
“We put up a pole barn, which houses all the tanks that the fish start in,” he said, “and we start with eyed eggs from Washington state. We incubate and hatch them and grow them right up to the time of harvest.”
Sellitti said Delaware County microenterprise grants awarded in 2017 and 2019 helped take Skytop Springs “to the next level.”
“We were able to purchase larger tanks and additional equipment,” he said, “and we put in additional ponds that are lined to keep contaminants out, so that was a big thing. (The second grant) was for the processing side of things, so not only do we grow, we can now process on-site.
“We are certified through the (New York state) Department of Ag and Markets,” he said, “and from the time (the fish) are hatched to the time they go to market, they don’t go anywhere. That’s the unique thing about what we’re doing — you can trace every step of the fish’s life, from the time it’s hatched to the time it gets to your table, and that’s a huge selling point for us.”
Though the pandemic has caused the Sellittis to modify their market focus, Sellitti said, the response among wholesalers and locals has been supportive.
“Restaurants were going to be our big thing,” he said, “and when things reopen, we’ll resume pursuing the restaurant business in the Catskills; that’s where we’ve been focusing, because it’s known for being the birthplace of trout fishing.
“We were forced into updating our website and making online ordering available, so at least we could cater to local people,” he said, “so we really quickly adapted to the current situation. We hope the wholesale clients will come back, but we did want to make our product available locally and we’d been getting requests. People are super-interested and excited and it’s something unique.”
And, Sellitti said, he hopes the quality of the product will hook new fans of fish.
“For people who don’t like that fishy taste, they will totally be converted into a fish lover once they try this fish,” he said. “It is really mild, it’s got a bit of a nutty flavor and it is so simple to prepare.
“That fishy taste comes from the environment in which they’re grown,” he said. “There’s still a negative association with fish farming, because people think about how they’re farmed in China, but when it’s done the right way, it’s far less destructive to the natural environment — we’re not depleting oceans and destroying naturally occurring fish stocks — and you get a higher-quality fish when it’s done correctly, so it doesn’t have that fishy taste and you yield more.”
Skytop Springs trout is available through Hollow in Delhi and the Catskill Regional Harvest & Butcher Shop in Andes. Local customers can order from skytopsprings.com or by calling 607-265-3797, Sellitti said, and will receive an individualized, contact-free pickup time via email.
For more information, find “Skytop Springs Fish Farm” on Facebook or visit skytopsprings.com.