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Traditional Ornamental Business Struggles to Survive

FLORIDA - South Dade, once a national hub for fish farming is struggling to survive against development and global competition.

However, one ornamental fish producer is managing to make a living. Paul Radice's Angels Hatchery specialises in rare species and apart from the deep concrete troughs that house his stock of Japanese koi and cichlids, Paul has a secret stash of albinos, a rare fluke that are native to central Africa's Lake Tanganyika, says a report for, is among the survivors.

They are different from their 25,000 genetic cousins kept outside in tanks and Radice hopes he can also breed into a profitable new strain of the popular Tropheus Duboisi - normally a jet black fish with small white spots.

"They're so precious I keep them in the house, just to protect them from any kind of accident," Radice said.

Urban Threat

Development of the once-rural area has changed the industry in the 36 years since he set up the business, and those changes pose an even greater threat than usual farming concerns like hurricanes and cold snaps.

While Florida remains the top producer for ornamental fish in the nation, competition from abroad, changing trends and the insurgency of big-box superstores have meant a dip in sales - and the number of farms - over the past decade.

Years ago, a stretch of Sunset Drive in West Kendall thrived with fish farms. But development drove up land prices, pushing many farmers to sell their land.

Ammonia and nitrogen incursion into well water -- a side effect of development -- made for inhospitable conditions. Now, the bulk of Florida's fish farming industry is clustered in Hillsborough County, where the land remains relatively cheap, at least by South Florida standards.

Of the 133 ornamental fish farms in Florida, only 18 are in Miami-Dade - mostly in the rural areas near Homestead, with a handful in Broward.

"Most of these are small. They're family-run businesses," said David Boozer, executive director of the Florida Tropical Fish Farms Association in Winter Haven. "Mom's probably doing the books, and Dad's tending the water quality."

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