After Promising Start, North Dakota Fish Farming Kaput
BISMARCK, N.D. North Dakota's fish farming industry, regarded as a promising alternative to livestock production more than a decade ago, has virtually vanished -- and industry experts say it isn't likely to reappear.
The state's last aquaculture operation, a Lakota company that grew tilapia for live shipment to markets in Canada was destroyed in a June fire. Other fish farming ventures in Williston, Kulm, Binford and Beulah went out of business years before.
Any North Dakota fish producer would start with a number of disadvantages, said Kevin Fitzsimmons, a University of Arizona environmental science professor and treasurer of the American Tilapia Association.
Tilapia is favored by fish producers because it can be grown in crowded conditions, and is more tolerant of poor water quality. It produces a light, flaky fillet with a mild flavor.
However, tilapia farms require a consistent source of warm water for the fish, which means extra energy costs.
The low cost of tilapia filets imported from Central America and elsewhere have forced U.S. producers to concentrate on market demand for live tilapia. The market can be lucrative, but it represents only about 5 percent of the total demand for the fish, Fitzsimmons said.
Shipping tilapia also is an expensive proposition. Special trucks are needed to get it to cities like Chicago, New York, Winnipeg, Toronto and Vancouver.
"Shipping is a big deal, and you're a long ways from those markets," former Gov. Ed Schafer said. "You have a specialized truck, a specialized hauler, and you've got to pump oxygen into the water as you're going down the road. It costs more."
Tony Hamling of Williston built a tilapia farm inside a building that once housed his farm equipment dealership, and began producing fish in 1995. His customers included fish buyers in Toronto and New York City.
But rising costs for shipping and feed, and fish prices of about 80 cents a pound, were no longer tolerable, Hamling said.
"The freight got pretty high, taking them that far," he said. "For every dollar you've got to spend for freight, you have less profit. It just didn't work out any more."
Source: Associated Press