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Agri Leader

Florida is big fish in aquaculture market

RODOLFO ROMAN Central Florida's Agri-Leader
Published:   |   Updated: March 11, 2013 at 09:05 PM

Lynda Ochoa's daughter, Alexza Fiallo, 6, searched through a South Florida pet store for a new family member.

Her choice wasn't long lasting: She took home a Siamese fighting fish.

"He's cute," she said. "But I wonder where it came from?"

Alexa is just one of many who ask that question. But little did she know the fish was more than likely raised in her backyard of South Florida, said Carlos V. Martinez, University of Florida assistant extension of ornamental aquaculture.

"About 85 percent of ornamental aquaculture is in Hillsborough County, Polk County," he said in a phone interview. "If you find an ornamental fish at a pet store, they are raised in Florida, but some are also imported."

Fish also are raised in South Florida, specifically in Homestead, and south of the I-4 corridor. In Homestead, mostly African cichlid is raised due to the water climate, which barely changes. Fish farms can be found in areas near international airports, since Florida is a top producer of ornamental fish, shipping it all over the country, Canada and Mexico. China also produces ornamental fish.

Aquaculture is a sector bringing in lots of revenue. In 2005, net sales for ornamental fish were more than $33 million. However, due to the economy, Martinez said, production has decreased. In 2003, there were 151 operations that raised ornamental fish, compared to 133 in 2005.

Most aquaculture farms have been around for more than 40 years. The economy has impacted ornamental fishing.

"Hobbies get to be cut back when there is an economic strike like we are having now," he said.

On another note, there are many species raised in the Sunshine State.

"There are about 23 species with different types of clownfish," he said in a phone interview. "A few years ago, the red velvet swordtail fish was a popular fish pet, but now the Glofish has taken over."

"The fish are genetically modified," he said in the interview. "The Glofish has been around a few years."

He said Glofish gain luminescence from a gene first extracted from jellyfish, naturally tinting them with fluorescent orange, green and other colors.

Pop culture also has determined the demand for ornamental fish. In 2003, when Disney's "Finding Nemo" movie arrived in theaters, clownfish were children's top pet choice.

"It sparked some more interest, but if you should think of the hobby of keeping fish as a pet a task and you need to think about what type of fish you'd like to own, whether it is a saltwater or freshwater," he said.

Freshwater fish are more common and easier to take care of. So be careful on choosing the type of fish if planning on taking on a new hobby, Martinez added.

"Freshwater fish can accept more variety than saltwater fish," he said. "Saltwater fish are difficult to raise. It's not a good start to raise a saltwater fish for the first time."

Plus, purchasing accessories and saltwater can take a toll on your wallet.

So just like Alexza wondered where the fish came from, figure out what type of fish you can invest time and money on before taking on a new hobby.