Growing demand for fresh fish helps spur growth of fish farming in Ohio.

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Fish farming or aquaculture in Ohio is relatively small but rapidly growing segment of the state’s agri-business.Seven years ago there were a couple dozen fish farms in Ohio with sales of one-point-eight million dollars.Today the number of fish farms in Ohio is closer to two-hundred-fifteen.Increased interest in aquaculture is due to a growing demand for fish here and abroad and a dwindling supply in the wild. WOSU’s Marilyn Smith reports.

A large pump sits outside a series of low-lying white buildings that house big, blue fish tanks at Dave Smith’s FreshWater Farms in Urbana.Smith has been fish farming for more than twenty-seven years. Armed with a degree in horticulture, a PhD in marine biology and a farmer’s sensibility, Smith has learned that managing the fish as well as their environment is key to success.For example, he says trout, he raises a lot of them, are very picky fish.

Smith has also learned that yellow perch, which he calls a shy fish, like large, tightly-packed schools.

Using solar panels to heat the air to 110 degrees, Smith can also maintain water temperatures in the tanks.He uses field tile and pea gravel to help keep the water clean and recycle the heated water.

Smith says when he first got into aquaculture it cost twenty-two dollars for each pound a fish grew in captivity.Today, he says, that’s down to seventy-five cents per pound.Once a provider of fresh fish to many up-scale restaurants in Dayton and Columbus, Smith says the dizzinging demand for fresh fish, free of chemicals and disease has forced him to limit selling his farm fed perch, trout and bass to restaurants in Urbana and his small retail store at FreshWater Farms.

Smith says he’ll be able to raise three times the number of fish he does now once a current remodeling project is complete.

Americans consume upwards of 20 pounds of fish per person per year. Some American scientists worry the world’s lakes and oceans cannot support the ever-growing demand for fish.

Fish farming falls in Ohio under the auspices of the North Central Regional Aquaculture Center. Director Ted Batterson says aquaculture is a one-billion dollar industry in the United States.And Ohio is a leader in the twelve state area he oversees.

Laura Tui of the Ohio State University Extension Service in Piketon helps people get started in the aquaculture business.She says people with a background in traditional agriculture made the best fish farmers.

Bob Calala’s family has been in the fish farming business in Huron County for forty three years.Calala’s father began raising bait, after discovering the land was not zoned for the hunting and fishing lodge he wanted to built.Calala says fish farming has been good to him and his family.

Calala and his family likely won’t have to worry as the increase in America’s appetite for fresh fish continues to grow.

Marilyn Smith, WOSU News.

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