Carlos Martinez, Assistant in Ornamental Aquaculture Extension, University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory
Ornamental fish production varies from extremely intensive indoor recirculating systems to extensive outdoor earthen ponds. Regardless of the culture method, all ornamental fish farmers are dependent upon producing their own fry (baby fish). The farmers who choose egg-layer species generally have much more control over their production than do those who choose live-bearer species. This is due to the simple fact that production numbers of egg layers can easily be controlled by varying the amount of breeding pairs, whereas most live bearers are produced by pond spawning. The only control of a typical live-bearer facility occurs during the initial introduction of broodstock as well as all of the subsequent culling necessary during the production cycle, which can be as long as three years.
Florida is home to an estimated 95% of U.S. domestic production in aquarium fish and ornamental aquatic plants. This is due to a favorable climate, geology, and the presence of international shipping hubs such as Tampa, Orlando, and Miami International Airports. Although production is spread throughout the state, the heaviest concentration of farms is in the southern half, with 85% located in Hillsborough and Polk counties near the Tampa area. Current production includes 400 species and over 800 varieties of freshwater ornamental fish, 200 varieties of freshwater plants, and a growing number of marine fish, invertebrates, and live rock (corals and sponges). With a total 2005 farm-gate value of $51.1 million ($33.2 million for ornamental fish, $17.6 million for aquatic plants, and $0.341 million for live rock), ornamental aquaculture comprised 68% of Florida’s $75 million total 2005 aquaculture sales (FASS 2006). The $33.2 million dollar ornamental fish lion’s share of Florida’s aquaculture can be further divided into two basic production types: egg layers and live bearers with values of $26.6 and $6.6 million respectively.
The University of Florida (UF)/IFAS Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory (TAL) is located in Ruskin, Florida, in the heart of the ornamental aquaculture industry with over 130 tropical fish farms within a 30-mile radius of the lab, most of which have a strong relationship with the lab. The TAL is a one-of-a-kind, stand-alone educational and research facility which offers applied research, fish health diagnostics, and educational programs (workshops) to the certified ornamental producers of the state.
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