Ohio’s aquaculture industry a growing fish in a great big pond

LONDON, Ohio – In 1998, there were 33 fish farms in Ohio.
And indications are the industry is still growing in the state: The 2005 census of agriculture shows 55 aquaculture enterprises that pump about $3.2 million into the state’s economy.
Fish farming is big business.
Laura Tiu, an aquaculture specialist with Ohio State University’s South Centers, said aquaculture is now ranked 15th in value among Ohio’s agricultural pursuits.
Still, many people don’t realize the stronghold we’ve already got or the opportunity for growth that’s still out there.
“Food fish, game fish, fingerlings, bass, tilapia. There’s something here for everyone.”
Methods. Tiu, in presentations at the Farm Science Review Sept. 19-21, said there are only three requirements to get started in fish farming: a vessel that’s fillable, drainable and seinable, or able to be netted.
Depending on the size of the vessel you use or build, some permits may be necessary, she said.
Existing. Fish can be grown in existing ponds or old barns, or you can build a new pond specifically for fish or shrimp production, Tiu said.
In one method for existing ponds, farmers drop wire cages stocked with fish into the water and watch them grow. No seining is necessary, since all you have to do is pull the cage and take it to market, Tiu said.
Cages can be built at home for about 3 cents per pound of yield, making them an extremely good option for getting started.
But that method also creates biosecurity issues, Tiu said. Some cages she’s worked with have disappeared overnight, carried off by thieves, and raising fish in such close quarters also increases the risk of disease spreading quickly.
Ponds. Excavated or levee ponds are by far the most popular – and forgiving – method used in Ohio, Tiu said.
Though it depends on what part of the state the fish farmer lives in, Tiu said averages indicate it costs $10,000 per acre to build a pond specifically for fish farming.
Ponds half to one acre in size are most popular, although anything from a quarter-acre to 10 acres in size is doable, depending on manpower and horsepower available.
Ponds can grow 3,000-5,000 pounds of fish or 800-1,000 pounds of shrimp per acre.
Indoors. Indoor recirculation systems and raceways are two options for indoor fish farming, Tiu said.
The indoor setups have expensive capital start-up costs – retrofitting an old hog or poultry barn costs around $250,000, Tiu said – and take plenty of hands-on management in order to be successful.
“If something goes wrong, you only have about 15 minutes to get it right,” or lose everything, Tiu said. “In a pond, you’d have a couple days.”
Advantages to the indoor setups include year-round production, and the opportunity to raise warm-water fish like tilapia, Tiu said.
Learn more. Of special interest to Midwestern fish farmers and wannabes is a new demonstration facility near Bowling Green, Ohio.
The OSU facility features three commercial-scale recirculating systems in operation, along with a specialist on-site to discuss which one might work best for your farm.
“Make an appointment, see them and evaluate them. The work [done there] will help you” make the best decisions on whether to get involved in aquaculture, she said.
For more information, contact Tiu by e-mail at tiu.2@osu.edu or by phone at 740-289-2071.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

About the Author

Former staff reporter Andrea Zippay wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2001 to 2009. More Stories by Andrea Zippay

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