Aquaculture Industry Emerges In NW Ohio

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
8 April 2010, at 1:00am

OHIO, US - Local farmers are finding fish farming has benefits as a business as well as for food and recreation.

Whether it is a taste for fresh seafood or the adventure of catching a bite, fish farming in Northwest Ohio is an emerging industry with economic and local area benefits.

Bowling Green News (BG News) reports that aquaculture, commonly known as fish farming, is the process and business of raising aquatic species of interest, such as fish, for food or other purposes. The industry ranges from companies that raise bait fish for fisherman, to a plethora of species for commercial consumption, like perch, trout and catfish. A variety of these species are sold to restaurants and grocery stores.

David Smith, founder of Freshwater Farms of Ohio, said there has been a growth of fish farming in the past five years, and there are now about 220 fish farms in Ohio. There are many opportunities for fish farming businesses, he said, and opportunities will grow as the industry expands.

Shawn McWhorter, a research associate aquaculture specialist for the Ohio Center of Aquaculture Development, is working on developing a more efficient means of raising fish, in hopes that the aquaculture business will pick up in Ohio. If more farmers farm fish, he said, their whole business could be more successful, and the local economy would benefit as well.

Dr McWhorter said farmers can diversify their businesses by adding fish farming to their agenda of raising livestock and crops.

He said: "What we're trying to do is develop this into a production strategy that existing livestock farmers can do. So [they are] not putting all their eggs in one basket to make money."

Jeff Miner, associate professor of biology at the University, said farmers can utilise the ponds they already have to farm fish and earn extra income.

Professor Miner told BG News: "A farmer has a pond that he uses for a purpose; why doesn't he use it for an additional purpose. [Aquaculture specialists] might say [to farmers] 'Why don't you stock yellow perch in there?' If they grow fast enough, for a little added dollars maybe we can figure out how to even harvest them, sell them to the local economy and you can make some money out of it.'"

Dr McWhorter said the idea behind farming perch and other tasty fish is pretty simple.

He explained: "People like to eat them so, let's grow them."

David Smith, founder of Freshwater Farms of Ohio, said the health benefits of consuming fish have helped the aquaculture industry, as well.

Mr Smith said: "In the overall scheme of things I think providing consumers with uncontaminated healthy seafood are huge," he said. "There's just no question about the health benefits of fish."

The bait industry uses aquaculture technology to produce mass quantities of shiner minnows, small silver fish commonly used by fisherman as bait.

Dr McWhorter conducts research at the Bowling Green Aquaculture Satellite Center, a research facility located a few miles outside of Bowling Green on Middleton Pike. The facility holds tanks filled with algae, which produce rotifers that the fish eat. There are even larger tanks full of minnows, which Dr McWhorter raises through his research and development process. He said he plans to use the minnows as a promotional instrument to spread the word about the benefits of aquaculture.

He said promoting aquaculture in Ohio is important for the local economy because bait-fish is a huge industry in the area, due in part to the adamant tourist fishing in the Great Lakes.

Overcoming hurdles of disease and entry capital

Developing more efficient fish farming strategies also can help stop the spread of diseased fish from state to state, Dr McWhorter said. In 2006, the Great Lakes saw a rapid spread of viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) on several species of fish, according to a press release from the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) in October 2006.

Humans are not susceptible to the disease but it affected species of bait-fish, Coho salmon and catfish. APHIS prohibited the import of some species of live fish from Canada, and throughout the eight states bordering the Great Lakes, to help stop the spread.

Although the idea of aquaculture is pleasing to some, the capital investment required of farmers to branch out on an aquaculture endeavour can prove to be a difficult hurdle, Dr McWhorter said.

He explained: "It's a very capital-intensive business. For somebody who wants to get into aquaculture they're going to need a large chunk of money to start."

Great potential

Mr Smith told BG News that while there is a large investment involved, both indoor and outdoor ponds have great potential for success. If one can get a fish farm operation going, he said, it can be more efficient than raising cattle or chicken.

He said this part of the country also offers benefits for potential fish harvesters.

Mr Smith added: "We have a lot going for us in this country, especially in the Midwest where we have abundant water resources and our part of Ohio [Urbana] has always had great potential."

North-west Ohio is an ideal location for fish farming, Dr McWhorter said, because of the clay soil, abundance of ponds and proximity to Lake Erie.

Dr McWhorter said there is a huge potential for farm fishing to take off as an industry because it serves entertainment purposes, for people who like to catch the fish, or just eat them.

"It's kind of funny [that] people tend to spend more money on entertainment than they do on food, you know [they'll say], 'Well, we'll go have fun and we'll eat a little something on the way.'"

Dr McWhorter added that trout farming was popular in the 1800's but it has been around since the Egyptians raised fish for food in their ponds. While fish farming is not a new development in Ohio, he said, it is in the emerging stages and still has a way to go.