Fish research center reels in $

North Dakota State Roundup

Published April 1, 1993  | April 1993 issue

Farming in North Dakota generally brings to mind waving fields of grain, but a new research center may alter that perception.

Construction of a $250,000 aquaculture facility at the Research Extension Center in Carrington this summer means that the state will study production methods for fish, and instruct current and prospective fish farmers.

The center will house a commercial-size aquaculture tank, making it easier to demonstrate techniques and teach farmers, says John Gardner, superintendent of the Carrington Center, an affiliate of North Dakota State University (NDSU). "There's a night and day difference between an aquarium and a commercial operation."

Research will initially focus on the raising of tilapia, a warm-water fish noted for its mild flavor and the most popular fish raised domestically. But future studies may include other species, such as bass and shrimp, Gardner says.

One-third of the facility will be dedicated to nutrition research. North Dakota grains and oilseeds, like sunflowers, flax and barley, have potential use as fish rations and might also provide grain farmers with a new outlet for their crops, Gardner says.

Mark Willows, owner of the state's first indoor fish farm, welcomes the new facility. Willows' company, Dakota Fish-n-Fillet in Binford, opened in July 1991 and is largely a family operation. Willows also farms hay and raises cattle outside of town, but he turned to aquaculture in an attempt to diversify. With some background study in fisheries management at NDSU and a vacant lumberyard in town, he took the chance on raising tilapia. Now about 100,000 pounds of fish are sold annually to North Dakota and Twin Cities supermarkets, and restaurants as far away as Chicago, New York and London.

Gardner says the state offers much of what's needed for successful aquaculture: high-quality water, availability of rations and an abundant supply of energy.

That energy supply works well for Fish'N Dakota, one of the largest tilapia operations in the United States, harvesting about 2 million pounds of fish annually. Fish'N Dakota, located about seven miles outside Beulah, uses warm water from the cooling towers at an adjacent power plant to keep water in its tanks at a constant temperature.

While these operations are the only active commercial fish farms in the state, growth in the industry is expected. Little more than a year ago the Dakota Aquaculture Cooperative was officially formed and now counts more than 100 members in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana.

Kathy Cobb