Drought Puts The Squeeze On Already Struggling Fish Farms

Marine Aquaculture, Freshwater Aquaculture January 04, 2013|Print

NPR article by  discusses the issue facing US fish farmers

This year's drought delivered a pricey punch to US aquaculture, the business of raising fish like bass and catfish for food. Worldwide, aquaculture has grown into a $119 billion industry, but the lack of water and high temperatures in 2012 hurt many U.S. fish farmers who were already struggling to compete on a global scale.

At Osage Catfisheries, about one mile off the highway in rural, central Missouri, there are dozens of rectangular ponds with rounded corners. Some of them are empty, some have water, but not one is completely full.

Co-owner Steve Kahrs dons a pair of shorts on an unusually warm December day and surveys his ponds. Today, the water is fairly still with a few ripples from the warm breeze. He stands in front of one pond filled with catfish about eight to 12 inches long and points to the dirty rings circling up a white PVC pipe for about a foot before it becomes white again.

"They're out of the water a ways," he says. "Our average depth is still about five feet. But we're a good 10 or 12 inches down of where we'd keep it."

Down the highway a few miles, Kahrs' office can be found in a small house next to two tiny ponds where his father first started raising fish about 60 years ago. Scattered about the property are sinks and large tubs filled with catfish, bluegill and paddlefish. Kahrs says this year, the drought proved to be tough on the family business — one that sorely depends on water.

"We did fall short on our production numbers that we wanted," he says.

The dry conditions and high temperatures forced many fish farmers here to dig deep to keep their fish healthy and fed. For Kahrs, that meant paying for more energy to pump clean, cool water out of his wells and into the ponds around the clock.

"We probably chewed through about 30 percent more of our power than we did the year before, and the year before was not that good," he says.

It wasn't just the water levels. The soaring temperatures in the summer turned up the burner on the ponds. When that happens, oxygen levels in the water drop and a fish's metabolism slows down. To counteract this, Kahrs says he was pumping water nearly every day from April through September.

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