Our Project, “Three Little Fishes,” is about expanding the use of our existing prawn farm. We currently have a prawn hatchery, nursery, and grow-out ponds. We concluded that we could raise tilapia in the two nine-thousand-gallon nursery tanks, rainbow trout in the two half-acre grow-out ponds, and hybrid striped bass in the one-acre reservoir. All this can be achieved during the off-season of raising prawns.
We are experienced in implementing sustainable ag practices. With our 2003 SARE grant titled, “Reinventing the Family Farm,” we converted the family dairy and grain farm into an aquaculture facility to raise freshwater prawns. “Three Little Fishes” builds on those principles.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The object of this project is to utilize our established prawn farm to practice sustainable applications. We purchased the family farm in 2000 for the sole purpose of constructing an aquaculture facility. We pondered for months on what aquaculture species to produce. After many conferences, visits to fish and shrimp farms, and hours of research, it was unanimous; JC and I made the decision to become shrimp farmers. Now, Lyons Fisheries has become more resourceful, benefiting from our acquired knowledge. Here are some of the steps that have led us to our current position.
• We obtained numerous books, manuals and publications through the internet and our local community college library. We visited other fish and shrimp farms, as well as hatcheries both privately owned and University operated. We joined organizations that would support our project and share information.
• Through our networking, we have become local, state, and US leaders in the aquaculture industry with our commitments to education and the industry as a whole. Visit us at www.shawneeprawn.org or www.freshwaterprawn.org.
• We assist with numerous school projects by giving tours or supplying information and pictures. Visit one of the foster projects that we gave support to this year. We are so proud of their progress. http://internet.humboldt.k12.ca.us/pacificview/prawnweb/
• We obtained a dealership for aeration equipment to increase our income as well as improve water quality during pond management.
• After inspection of our facility, and commitment to the state of Illinois’ rules and regulations, our farm received approval from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to raise and sell tilapia. We obtained a few tilapia fingerlings and started a pilot project to further our research and gain experience of raising the fish. We learned that the tilapia is a tropical animal and prefers the environment similar to the prawns. We experimented with feeds, temperature, growth curve, and the poly-culture of tilapia and prawn together. We are looking forward to the full production of tilapia after the prawns next nursery cycle.
• October 13th of 2004, we received our first shipment of rainbow trout. We stocked 1,000 7- to 9-inch fingerlings in two half-acre ponds. We fed a regimen of Purina trout chow twice a day when water was warm, and slowed feeding with cooler weather. An aspirator aerator kept the ponds from freezing and suffocating the fish. After state inspection of our ponds, we obtained a state permit to allow fee fishing at our facility. We hosted an agri-tourism event called “Trout Fishing Days.” The two weekend event in April attracted about 50 anglers and curious onlookers. Fisherman caught the ¾ lb to 1 ½ lb trout on canned corn, dough bait, and mini-marshmallows. We harvested about 525 pounds of delicious pan-sized rainbow trout. A cleaning station and recipe booklet helped to boost sales to the public. We also offered vacuumed-packed trout at our Prawn Harvest Festival in late September, which proved to be an excellent marketing outlet. We nearly sold out of our trout reserve — the 12 left in the freezer.
• We were not able to fulfill our goal of raising the hybrid striped bass this year, but still have it in our plans to do so in the near future. The following scenarios took place which kept us from that goal. We developed chloramines in our water source which killed our baby prawns. We had to make two trips to Mississippi to replace what was lost, thinking that we had the problem with the water resolved. Income was lost and expenses soared trying to stabilize the situation. Being good stewards of resources, we set up our indoor recirculation system to drain the tank water into the reservoir. By now you can guess that we then had chloramines in our reservoir. Since we already had the prawn ponds filled and ready to be stocked it seemed a little easier to treat the water that was left. To build on our misery, herbicide overspray from a neighboring farm contaminated all of our ponds. We realized after stocking our ponds with 15,000 juveniles that we lost most all if not all of the prawns that we’d just put in the day before. Thinking we had chloramines in this water too and not realizing the effects of the herbicide as of yet, we did not get our water samples taken early enough to prove our case against the farmer that sprayed his field on a windy day.
It was after I noticed all the trees along the fence row behind the ponds were dead did I realize exactly what had happened to make most of the prawns die. Having contracted with another prawn farmer to grow prawn for us this year really saved the situation. Now came the prawn harvest festival on the heels of Katrina and Rita. Expecting 1,500 to 2,000 visitors to buy fresh prawn and other seafood was a big mistake. Attendance was down to 350 visitors at most, which left us still holding 375 pounds of fresh shrimp that we were planning to sell to recoup some of our losses. It just was not our year for profits, so expansion of our project had to be put on hold.
• Several producers and allied tradesmen helped with our project.
Bill Blythe, Biologist and owner from Hybred Aquaculture in Bluff City assisted with the stocking densities and budget analysis of raising the tilapia in the nursery tanks.
Bob Boyd, Aquaculture Instructor for Shawnee Community College and owner of Bob’s Shrimp & Trout Farm helped to determine stocking density and feed ratio for the rainbow trout.
Chris Breden, Biologist from Illinois Aquaculture Tech SERV Association made his contribution by analyzing the cost of production, stocking densities, feed schedule and marketing of the hybrid stripped bass in the cage culture system.
Paul Hitchens, Biologist, also from the Illinois Aquaculture Tech SERV Association consistently helps with all aquaculture projects.
Dr. Cortney Ohs, Researcher and Biologist from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, has also been a great source of information and assistance in all projects.
• We have learned so much from this project and again, we are so thankful for the opportunity to receive SARE’s approval and funding. I have learned that in an aquaculture venture, when things get bad, they get bad real fast, and you need to be prepared ahead of time as well as have the ability to move quickly to remedy the problems that can occur. Technical assistance is a must for every fish and shrimp farmer from coast to coast. A market to sell your product needs to be established before harvest. I am currently looking to establish contracts to sell our fish and shrimp so we don’t have to rely on tourism and economic impacts to market our products.
Being involved with SARE has brought us numerous e-mails, phone calls, and visitors from all over the country. We try to assist wherever possible to educate others in meeting their goals.
My advice to other potential fish and shrimp farmers is to do your homework, test your market, and be prepared to give it your all.
The impact that our project has had is unbelievable. We are constantly answering questions, giving tours of our facility, mailing out info, and answering e-mails. Our project has attracted numerous groups and tours to our farm, as well as more wildlife. Our goal is for our tiny farm to support itself and produce enough income to allow for growth and expansion.
Our farm has constantly been in the spotlight for the past year. Our farm was the focus when Kim Tack wrote about us in the University of Illinois Extension IDEA News & Views Fall Issue 2004 (http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/iidea/). We were featured on the cover of the February 2005 issue of the Prairie Farmer(www.PrairieFarmer.com), and then were asked to set up a display and talk about raising freshwater prawns at a Sustainable Ag Conference hosted by the University of Illinois Extension.
In April 2005, we hosted “Trout Fishing Days” where we set up an educational display and received great publicity from the press. Folks came from town to purchase the trout and eat a bowl of seafood gumbo. In August, we hosted a tour for the University of Illinois Extension. Fifty plus interested farmers, educators, and government employees attended the event. We talked about raising prawns and fish, networking and marketing. We had guest speaker, Paul Hitchens, Biologist from the Illinois Aquaculture Tech SERV on hand to discuss technical issues. We gave a tour of our hatchery, nursery, and grow-out ponds as well as equipment used to aerate the water and feed the fish and shrimp. We also set up an education display including SARE info, posters, fish books from Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and live prawns, tilapia, and bass. Dinner included delicious freshwater prawns and we sold over 100 pounds of the frozen tails as well as several cookbooks. A short documentary about prawn farming was also taped to air on local television. Our Prawn Harvest Festival was listed on the Greater Centralia and Salem Chamber of Commerce websites, The Illinois Department of Ag Fish Page, Festivalnet.com, Southern Illinois Tourism website and brochure, the University of Illinois tourism webpage, and the Agriculture Tourism Partners of Illinois Farm Activity Guidebook. I mailed brochures to every customer and tourist that was on my list and posted brochures on bulletin boards and retailers counters. In October, I learned that our farm was once again a feature, this time in a US publication titled Aquaculture Magazine (www.aquaculturemag.com) which is read world-wide. The July/August 2005 issue told the story about raising freshwater prawns for profit and the Sustainable Ag Tour held August 12th at our farm. Our future plan is to establish our own website with links and e-mail about our unique project.