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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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CVM Team Sees Florida Aquaculture Industry Firsthand

FDA Veterinarian Newsletter January/February 2006 Volume XVII, No VI

A team of animal drug reviewers from the Center for Veterinary Medicine saw firsthand the aquaculture’s industry’s breadth when the team met with several representatives of that industry during a recent tour of the ornamental aquaculture industry in Florida.

The team met with members of the Florida Tropical Fish Farms Association (FTFFA) for a discussion led by Mr. Art Rawlins, the FTFFA’s president. The discussion was a valuable opportunity for CVM team to learn more about the drug needs of the industry and to explain the Investigational New Animal Drug (INAD) process to industry members. Some of the producers participate in INAD studies, and all producers could benefit from the results of the studies.

Carlos Martinez, the State ornamental aquaculture extension and SeaGrant agent at the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory (TAL) in Ruskin, FL, shared his perspective on the ornamental fish industry with the visiting CVM team. (The SeaGrant program is sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] of the U.S. Department of Commerce. It is NOAA’s primary university-based program in support of coastal resource use and conservation.) Mr. Martinez has seen the industry from the producer’s point of view. Immediately before coming to TAL, he owned an ornamental fish farm in Florida. Before that, he operated a shrimp farm in Ecuador for 7 years.

The team visited several fish farms in the area, including 5-D Tropical, Inc., in Plant City, FL, one of Florida’s largest ornamental production facilities and importers of ornamental fish. 5-D sells over 800 varieties of fish and produces 92 varieties at their two farms. The CVM team met Jay, Joe, and Damon Diaz. Tony Lott, the farm manager, organized a demonstration of seining of a pond, so the team could see this common method of harvesting fish. Bill Shields and Robin Sanderson showed the team the breeding rooms. Some of the species they breed include barbs, tetras, danios, corydoras, oscars, red-tail black sharks, South American cichlids, and even some amphibians. The CVM group also saw the rooms where fish are packed for shipping.

In Ruskin, the CVM team visited Steve Simmons Aquatics, a farm that produces 15 species of fish—including livebearers and egg-layers—with pond and tank production. There are roughly 300 ponds on the farm. Each pond is roughly one-fifteenth to one-twentieth of an acre in size. Mr. Steve Simmons and his son Ty showed the CVM team around the farm and demonstrated the process of harvesting swordtails from a pond using traps baited with fish food. The farms owners sorted the swordtails for market. Male swordtails have different phenotypic sexual characteristics from females, including the presence of a “sword,” or lower extension of the caudal fin. Consumers prefer male swordtails and are willing to pay more for them because of the fish’s appearance.

Also in Ruskin are Aquatica Tropicals, owned by Mr. Marty Tanner, and Florida Marine Aquaculture, Inc. Mark Umlauf showed the CVM team around Aquatica’s facilities. In a one-and-a-half acre building, freshwater fish, such as plecostomus and cichlids, are produced in recirculating systems. Martha Campbell gave a tour of her Indo-Pacific marine invertebrate culture and wild marine species holding systems. The team got a close look at the live rock and soft corals that her facility produces and sells.

The team traveled to Plant City, FL, to visit Oak Ridge Fish Hatchery, Inc., which has 400 ponds and produces livebearers, plecostomus, and cichlids. The team met Ruiz Drawdy, the previous owner of the facility, and David and Dustin Drawdy, who currently operate it.

The team also visited Michael Drawdy at Imperial Tropicals, Inc., in Lakeland, FL. The operation has about 400 ponds between two locations. Also, like many other facilities in the ornamental industry, it holds fish in greenhouses in burial vault flow-through systems. Farmers find burial vaults to be the most economical type of holding tank for fish brought in from the ponds. In many cases, it is easier to treat fish that are held indoors than those still in the ponds.

In Gibsonton, FL, the team visited Segrest Farms, one of the world’s largest wholesale tropical fish suppliers. Segrest Farms receives, holds, conditions, and ships freshwater and marine fish, reptiles, and aquatic plants. The team met Mr. Elwyn Segrest and toured the facilities with Mr. Jack Bramlett and Dr. Denise Petty.

The Florida Aquarium

The team concluded its visit at The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, FL. This facility opened in March, 1995. Dr. Ilze Berzins, Vice President of Biological Operations and head veterinarian, explained the intricacies of public aquarium medicine. Dr. Berzins discussed the quarantine for animals when they arrive at the aquarium and common medical treatments used on fish in public aquariums. She noted that monogenean parasites are a common problem in aquariums. For its saltwater exhibits, The Florida Aquarium uses natural seawater that is barged in from the Gulf of Mexico and filtered before use.

Additional training

These site visits were only half of a training series on the ornamental fish industry developed for CVM team. Also in March, Drs. Yanong and Hartman lectured for a day at CVM headquarters in Rockville, MD, and coordinated a wetlab with Dr. Renate Reimschuessel at CVM’s Office of Research as part of the CVM Staff College’s Emerging Technology Series.


--Florida ornamental fish farmers typically use seine nets to harvest egg-laying fish from ponds. Florida is the largest producer of ornamental fish in the United States, responsible for at least 80 percent of the country’s production.

--In one of many research projects, the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory studied the growth of Tridacna clams in these greenhouse systems.

--Concrete burial vaults are commonly used to hold fish in ornamental aquaculture.