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Tropical fish industry growing thanks to aquaculture lab in Ruskin

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Posted at 10:22 AM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 15:48:09-04

RUSKIN — There are close to 100 tropical fish farms throughout the state of Florida and half of them are located right here in Hillsborough and Polk counties. However, raising tropical fish requires a lot more than just a tank full of water.

Inside the UF/IFAS Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory, they are researching more than 50 different species of tropical fish, passing that knowledge onto the local Florida farmers.

Director Craig Watson has a responsibility for each and every one of these fish.

“It's the number of species and varieties of fish that keeps it exciting because every day it's going to be something new,” said Watson.

The research that comes out of the campus can be the difference in millions of dollars of revenue for tropical fish farmers across the state.

“The production that we are seeing on a per farm basis is getting higher and higher,” said Watson.

The lab’s first priority is teaching farmers how to keep their fish alive and thriving.

“We can take that one sick fish, tell them what’s the matter with it, tell them how to fix it, and even better tell them how to prevent it from happening again,” said Watson.

Their other main goal is to create something new.

“Anytime Florida can add another species or another variety of fish to the menu of fish available from Florida it puts them at a better position to compete with our foreign competitors,” said Watson.

Watson said the lab’s impact goes beyond fish farmers, they’ve had students continue on to work at zoos and aquariums across the country.

“We’ve probably trained well over 100 veterinarians in the 25 years we’ve been here,” said Watson.

Watson was even honored earlier this year by the National Aquaculture Association. He received the Joseph P. McCraren Award for Outstanding Contributions in Promoting the Growth of U.S. Aquaculture.

“It's not the fish that get me up in the morning it’s the farmers that we are working with and that award was from a farmers association,” said Watson.