BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — With so much excitement in aquaculture, some farmers might wonder whether raising fish really is practical.
After all, raising a herd of beef or milk cows, a barn full of poultry or swine is decidedly different than fish. Or is it?
Actually, many similarities exist, at least conceptually. Many fish farmers have found vacated swine or poultry barns useful for aquaculture, because of the indoor space, running water and utilities.
Shawn McWhorter, aquaculture specialist with Ohio State University, said existing structures offer opportunity, but producers who become serious about the business may find themselves limited by such buildings, and may be better off making the investment of an aquaculture-only facility.
Producers “don’t want the building dictating what the operation can do,” he said.
With so much clay in Ohio, constructing ponds may work best for some. During the Ohio Grain Farmers Symposium, OSU aquaculture specialist Laura Tiu reported the cost of constructing a pond to be about $15,000 an acre. The most common size pond used is one-half, to 1 acre.
About 3,000-5,000 pounds of fish can be raised in a one-acre pond. For natural bodies of water, cages can be inserted to control movement and separation of fish, but caging tends to develop more disease and slower growth, Tiu reported.
Some of the higher-tech ways to house fish include recirculating aquaculture systems (man-made tank facilities) and raceways (system of parallel tanks).
Recirculating systems incorporate the most technology and usually require the largest capital investment.
Ohio’s state veterinarian Tony Forshey, who represents the Ohio Department of Agriculture in aquaculture development, said raising fish can be more profitable than crop farming, per acre, but like crops, it has to be well managed.
McWhorter, who directs Ohio State University’s Bowling Green Aquaculture Satellite Center, said the first thing for a new producer to do is read and ask questions.
“Do a year’s homework before you even spend a dollar,” he said.
Then, when ready to invest, he advises producers to start at the smallest size necessary, and increase slowly.
He suggests forming friendships with “with people who don’t have anything to sell,” because plenty of help is available, if a producer agrees to purchase a product or particular brand.
McWhorter and Forshey both said while there’s plenty of opportunity in fish, there’s also opportunity to fail, if decisions are misguided and uninformed.
However, one thing producers can anticipate is a strong demand, for at least the next several years. With a $9 billion national deficit in aquaculture and a rapidly growing population, Forshey said he doesn’t see Ohio’s production catching up with demand for at least another 10 years.
Gary Stansberry, aquaculture coordinator for Ohio Department of Agriculture, said a study being conducted with OSU’s Piketon Center will help determine the barriers to aquaculture expansion in Ohio. Stansberry visits with fish farmers across the state, listening to problems and working to develop solutions.
As he sees it, aquaculture may be a way of helping large farms diversify, giving them more chance to succeed when traditional farm markets become volatile.
“Stay with what you’re doing (traditional farming), but also look at the fish,” he advises.