UF Aquaculture Center Re-Defines Its Mission

Tom Nordlie (352) 392-1773 x 277

Debbie Britt Pouder dcb@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu
Lance Riley lwriley@ufl.edu
Frank Chapman fchapman@ufl.edu
Jeffrey Hill jcichla@ufl.edu
Dave Carpenter davebc2@ufl.edu

BLOUNTSTOWN, Fla. — To further improve service to industry and consumers, the University of Florida’s Sam Mitchell Aquaculture Demonstration Facility in Blountstown is expanding its horizons.

Launched in 1988 to help establish and promote catfish farming in West Florida, the Sam Mitchell Aquaculture Demonstration Facility has offered a variety of extension education programs. Now, with the help of a new coordinator, the facility’s new mission statement includes research and teaching.

“Extension education will remain a priority at the Blountstown unit, but we’re also part of UF’s Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, which increases the opportunities for research,” said Debbie Britt Pouder, facility coordinator. “We’re one of the few facilities in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences equipped to handle big aquatic research projects.”

Named for the Florida legislator who helped secure its funding, the facility covers 40 acres and features 33 outdoor ponds, eight outdoor tanks, two greenhouses equipped with indoor tanks, a hatchery, a laboratory and living quarters for visiting personnel, Pouder said. The unit emphasizes food fish and bait fish, unlike UF’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory in Ruskin that specializes in ornamental fish.

“Integrating aquaculture with traditional agriculture will be a key objective here,” Pouder said. “Not only does it offer economic possibilities, some applications could solve difficult environmental problems.”

An integrated aquaculture/agriculture project underway may offer a viable method of removing phosphorus from dairy farm effluent, said Lance Riley, a UF fisheries and aquatic sciences doctoral student working with Ed Phlips, Shirley Baker and Patrick Baker, faculty of the department.

“Because phosphorus is a nutrient, we can sequester or capture it using the aquaculture food chain,” Riley said. “We’re raising aquatic microorganisms in phosphorus-rich water, then feeding them to several crop species. In effect, the crop species act as phosphorus storage units.”

As part of the project, Riley is studying the freshwater clam, Corbicula fluminea, a filter-feeder used to remove particulate phosphorus from the wastewater stream. Once harvested, the clam’s meat can be used for fertilizer and its shell can be crushed to make building material.

“We want the system to produce enough income to offset the operating costs,” Riley said.

As part of the project, Riley is helping construct large “raceways” that will be stocked with clams. Once the system has been tested, it will be demonstrated at dairy farms in the Lake Okeechobee area, he said.

Integrated aquaculture/agriculture could greatly benefit small family farms, said Frank Chapman, a reproductive biology specialist with UF’s fisheries and aquatic sciences department who works closely with personnel at the Blountstown facility.

“Highly diversified farming has been successful elsewhere, and Florida needs a proven approach. The farms are small so it’s economically safer for them to diversify,” he said. “Aquaculture fits right into this scenario.”

Chapman believes that sturgeon is an ideal aquaculture crop. The huge, primitive fish are best known for producing caviar but sturgeon meat commands $4 per pound and is growing in popularity, he said. Moreover, sturgeon grow quickly and are very efficient feeders, meaning they provide a good return on production costs.

After several years of evaluating native sturgeon species, Chapman and other UF researchers have developed effective farming methods, he said. Now the Blountstown facility is helping educate Florida fish farmers on sturgeon culture.

“Historically, sturgeon was a staple seafood product but today they’re almost forgotten,” he said. “Now that we have the technology to grow them efficiently, it’s time for a comeback.”

As Florida’s premiere freshwater gamefish, the largemouth bass needs no introduction. But in Dade and Broward Counties, a little-known South American fish called the peacock cichlid may be competing with the largemouth for food, said Jeffrey Hill, a doctoral student with UF’s fisheries and aquatic sciences department.

To determine the extent of the competition, Hill and UF fish ecology specialist Charles Cichra are launching a new study at the Blountstown facility. By housing each fish species alone and together and offering a variety of prey, Hill and Cichra can determine whether the bass’ feeding habits change when the cichlid is present.

“Previous studies suggest that the peacock cichlid is not detrimental to largemouth bass populations, because the bass is not a picky eater,” Hill said.

Hybrid striped bass have long been a favorite demonstration fish at the Blountstown facility, where they’re being raised in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Andy Lazur, an aquaculture specialist. When mature, the bass are used for various children’s fishing programs conducted by the facility, the commission and UF’s fisheries and aquatic sciences department.

Twice each year, children’s fishing programs take center stage at Blountstown, as 300 kids and almost as many parents enter its normally quiet confines for fishing fun on two half-acre ponds stocked with hybrid striped bass and catfish, he said. The young anglers take home their catch, along with a photograph, certificate and a “goodie bag” of fishing gear donated by Pure Fishing, a leading tackle manufacturer.

“We’re crazy about this event,” Lazur said. “The kids have a wonderful time and we introduce them to a wholesome activity that could become a lifelong pursuit.”

So far, children’s fishing events at the facility have been a collaborative effort with the conservation commission, but beginning this summer the facility will also team up with UF’s fisheries and aquatic sciences department, as part of the Fishing for Success program.

With so many fish living in outdoor ponds, it’s only natural that fish-eating birds such as cormorants, egrets, ospreys and herons are attracted to the facility. To discourage predation, UF relies on John Dunlap, a U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist who maintains his office at the facility.

“Each bird may eat only a few fish per day, but when you have flocks visiting the ponds every day it adds up,” said Dunlap, who works throughout Florida, Georgia and Alabama. “It’s especially bad during winter when migratory species pass through.”

Dunlap uses several humane methods to discourage the hungry birds. A device called a propane cannon creates loud explosions at regular intervals, and for situations requiring immediate attention Dunlap uses pyrotechnics, like a pistol that fires exploding rounds high into the air.

The Blountstown facility is participating in a tri-state project to evaluate a hybrid catfish called the “channel x blue” that may benefit fish farmers throughout the Southeast, said Dave Carpenter, a UF aquaculture biologist. Spawned from a female channel and a male blue catfish, the hybrid is a more aggressive feeder, better able to withstand stress and easier to harvest than its parent species.

“Researchers from UF, Auburn University and the University of Georgia will independently research production issues like growth, feed conversion rates and ease of harvest,” he said. “We’ll get together and compare notes, then issue joint findings.”

Like many of the applied aquaculture projects at Blountstown, the hybrid catfish evaluation was reviewed by the facility’s advisory committee, Carpenter said. The committee, which includes industry representatives from around the state, helps plan research and extension activities.

“They’re the voice of the industry, and we’re always going to listen,” he said. “Whether we’re doing research or extension, we want to help Florida farmers and consumers.”



Posted: September 19, 2001

Category: UF/IFAS

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories