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No fish story: Indiana positioned for aquaculture boom

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Indiana is a small fish in the big pond of United States aquaculture, but the Hoosier state is positioned to make a larger splash, said a Purdue University expert.

Its proximity to resources and markets, coupled with a climate that provides for year-round aquaculture production, give Indiana a fin up on many other states, said Kwamena Quagrainie (pronounced Kwaa-MEAN-a Kway-GRAIN), an agricultural economist who specializes in aquaculture.

“Indiana is central to everything,” said Quagrainie, a Ghana, Africa, native who once raised tilapia. “In terms of raw materials for feed, the aquaculture industry uses corn and soybean, and it’s right here. In terms of markets for fish, it’s right here. We are surrounded by big cities where we can sell our fish.”

Compared to states along the Gulf Coast where hundreds of millions of pounds of fish and shrimp are raised each year, Indiana’s production is like a drop in the ocean: 3,000 pounds annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2002 Census of Agriculture.

Aquaculture contributed $3.1 million to Indiana’s $4.7 billion in annual agricultural sales in 2002, the census reported. Among commodity categories, aquaculture ranked ahead of only cut Christmas trees and short-rotation woody crops ($2.7 million) in state agricultural sales. Grains, oilseeds, dry beans and dry peas comprised the largest sales category, at $2.6 billion in 2002.

Indiana’s aquaculture industry ranges from producers who raise fish for restaurants and specialty markets to those who stock ponds and sell aquaculture equipment.

“According to the USDA census, there are 47 aquaculture producers in Indiana,” Quagrainie said. “Perhaps five of those producers are full-time aquaculture producers.”

Hoosier producers often convert farm ponds into aquaculture production sites, Quagrainie said. Producers raise baitfish, ornamental and food fish, including catfish, trout, yellow perch, striped bass and tilapia. In recent years more producers have looked into raising prawns — a species of shrimp.

“I know a couple of farmers who raise prawns in the summer,” Quagrainie said. “These farmers raise prawns from June to August. They harvest the prawns the first or second week in September, then prepare the ponds and put in trout. Trout can go through the winter, but prawns cannot stand cold weather. Even the slightest drop in temperature can cause you to lose your prawns.

“By April or May, producers harvest their trout and then prepare the ponds for another prawn production in the summer. That way they are able to double crop for one year.”

Initial investment in an aquaculture operation varies, depending on what a producer wants to raise and how much they plan to produce, Quagrainie said.

“I think before you start, you need to ask yourself a number of questions,” he said. “First, are you going into it part time or are you going into it full time? And then, second, you should ask yourself, ‘How much money do I have, in terms of resources?’

“Many farmers who begin in aquaculture use existing farm resources like farm buildings and farm structures, compared to not having those facilities and having to borrow money to build them. I always advise people to start small and use resources that are already available on the farm.”

Where a producer lives also should factor into aquaculture production decisions, Quagrainie said.

“The other thing you have to think about is the type of production system you want to use,” he said. “In southern Indiana, the soil is more clay. Once you have some clay in the soil it is able to hold water. So people in southern Indiana are used to raising fish in ponds. In northern Indiana, the soil doesn’t contain much clay, so you have very few people who have ponds. Most of the people raising fish in central and northern Indiana are raising them indoors.

“Also, in southern Indiana, the weather is a bit warmer than in central and northern Indiana, so if you live in the central and northern parts of Indiana you have to be mindful of the weather.”

Quagrainie is putting together a series of workshops for farmers interested in aquaculture. The workshops will take place this fall at locations across Indiana, at dates and times to be announced.

For more information about aquaculture production, read “Getting Started in Freshwater Aquaculture,” produced by Purdue Extension and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program. The book, which comes with a CD, is available for $19.95 and can be ordered online.

Writer: Steve Leer, (765) 494-8415, sleer@purdue.edu

Source: Kwamena Quagrainie, (765) 494-4200, kquagrai@purdue.edu