Fish farms swimming in productivity

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Lyle Andry of Birdseye seined for hybrid bluegill in one of 40 fish ponds at Andry’s Fish Farm in Birdseye on Thursday. The fish farm, which rents an additional 40 ponds in Dubois and Crawford counties, sells fish in Indiana and the surrounding states. Andry’s farm is one of about 50 that make up Indiana’s aquaculture industry.

By TONY RAAP
Herald Staff Writer

BIRDSEYE — When Lyle Andry opened his fish farm 10 years ago, he started small.

About 20 ponds lined the family property along Conservation Road just south of Birdseye. Five part-time workers helped him slog through the muddy ponds to reap bluegill, bass and other fish, which the farmers breed and raise from birth.

During his first year in business, Andry sold between 100,000 and 200,000 bluegill, his most popular species.

Now, he has 80 ponds and eight helpers and sells between 800,000 and 1.2 million bluegill a year.  His business has grown so large so fast that Andry, 34, has struggled to keep up with the demand.

“We’re at the point right now we’re going to have to hire a lot of help or quit growing,” he said. “We’re spread really thin the way it is.”

Indiana’s aquaculture industry has gone gangbusters. Estimated sales from the state’s fish farms totaled more than $15 million last year, up from $3.5 million in 2006.

The state has about 50 fish producers compared with just 18 seven years ago, according to a Purdue Extension report released last month.

“While aquaculture is not the most well-known industry in Indiana’s agriculture sector, it is definitely present and very important to the state’s economy,” said Kwamena Quagrainie, an aquaculture marketing specialist in Purdue’s agricultural economics department.

Quagrainie, who co-authored the study with graduate student Megan Broughton, said the aquaculture boom is rooted in demand and policy.

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Lyle Andry of Birdseye, left, collected hybrid bluegill with help from Zach Russell of Birdseye as they seined from one of the ponds at Andry’s Fish Farm in Birdseye on Thursday.

Americans are becoming more health conscious and, as a result, are eating more seafood. Most of the fish produced in rural parts of the state are shipped to larger markets like Chicago.

Quagrainie said another reason for the boom is that Indiana is very friendly to aquaculture. Its laws are less stringent than neighboring states’.

Because of problems with invasive species, Illinois has banned open-water production of tilapia, a tropical fish. Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin have similar restrictions, which are meant to protect the Great Lakes.

Technology also has spurred production. Though many still use ponds, some farmers grow fish indoors, where they can control when the eggs hatch.

In 2011, Bell Aquaculture in Albany broke ground on a $5 million expansion of its indoor fish farm, the largest yellow perch aquaculture facility in the U.S.

In a few weeks, Andry will begin construction on a 4,000-square-foot hatching facility. He intends to grow fish both indoors and outdoors.

“The technology is improving and helping the industry to grow,” Quagrainie said.

The aquaculture industry produces fish for human consumption as well as ornamental fish for aquariums and recreational fish used to stock ponds and lakes. Andry estimates that 60 to 70 percent of his business is derived from pond-stocking.

Many of his customers belong to homeowners associations that have their own ponds. Others live on farms and want to keep their ponds stocked with fresh fish.

Andry loads his fish into tanks and hauls them across Indiana, Kentucky, southern Michigan and parts of Ohio, where they’re sold in parking lots at farm supply stores.

Small fish are his stock and trade. Most of the fish he sells are 2 or 3 inches long, known as fingerlings. He often sells fish to other fish farmers, who grow them until they’re ready to be sold in the food market.

The rise in aquaculture also benefits crop farmers. Like many fish producers, Andry uses soybean-based fish feed.

The Indiana Soybean Alliance considers aquaculture “the next major new market for soybeans,” according to the study.

Besides total sales, the study also looked at number of employees and earned income. The state’s aquaculture industry employs 169 people who have a total income of $3.7 million.

Fish farming generates $101,506 in income taxes and $877,908 in sales taxes for the state, according to the study.

Contact Tony Raap at traap@dcherald.com.




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