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« เมื่อ: ธันวาคม 13, 2006, 02:18:54 PM »

SARA KENNEDY
Herald Staff Writer

With researchers warning in a recent report that the world will run out of seafood by 2048 if steep declines in marine species continue, the spotlight has suddenly shifted to whether seafood grown commercially on fish farms can meet future demand.

Locally, in Sarasota and Manatee counties, people are raising tilapia, sturgeon, snook, red snapper, pompano, queen conch, shrimp and clams for commercial sale. But the scale is small and the practice still sort of an oddity.

However, with seafood's increasing popularity and the possibility of diminished wild stocks, the modest beginnings of a few pioneers may encourage a vigorous new commercial food fish industry, local experts say.

"We're averaging 350 pounds a week - all tilapia - for food," said Ron Gardner, a civilian certified aquaculturist employed by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. "We feed 1,400 inmates."

Gardner has been growing tilapia for nearly four years and last year produced nine tons of fish from a single tank located in a little greenhouse at the jail farm.

He estimated the value of the fish at $80,000. The operation probably saved the county $68,000 last year in food costs after subtracting the $12,000 spent to feed the fish while they matured.

If sold commercially, the tilapia could reap $100,000 considering retailers like Sweetbay Supermarkets are charging $5.49 per pound.

"It's so easy, anyone can do it," said Gardner about raising the fish. "They're real simple - you stick to a few basic rules, and they grow."

Jail inmates are not the only ones dining on locally farmed fish. The Sarasota Ritz-Carlton is serving sturgeon fillets, priced at $28 each, on its dinner menu. The fish are supplied by the Mote Aquaculture Park on Fruitville Road east of Sarasota.

The park is a nonprofit organization but it is raising and selling sturgeon and their eggs in an effort to demonstrate that fish-farming is a viable business enterprise that can be done successfully and in an environmentally safe manner.

And, because both the fish and the caviar are delicacies that sell for high prices commercially, the park's business plan calls for income from the high-value fish to support research and development.

"My interest is not in making the money but showing you can be an aquaculturist and make money in an environmentally sustainable way, with little or no impact on the environment," said Kevan L. Main, Ph.D., director of the Mote Center for Aquaculture Research and Development.

"It's cutting-edge technology. Let research organizations make the mistakes and figure out how to make it work," she said. "That way, the commercial industry doesn't have to struggle with it."

The park also is raising snook, red snapper, pompano, queen conch and shrimp. It is developing a "closed" system that cleans and recycles the water in which the fish are grown, addressing water pollution - one of the chief stumbling blocks to commercial production in the United States. Officials say other countries have taken the lead in food aquaculture because they face less environmental regulation than their U.S. counterparts.

read more
http://www.bradenton.com/mld/bradenton/business/16198601.htm
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