Aquarium Fish Farm Visited and Explained

How a Tropical Fish Farm Works and How the Fish Get to Stores

aquarium fish farm in Florida
Thomas R. Reich PhD

No journey into the world of tropical fish and where they come from could tell the full story without a visit to Florida.  The many manmade ponds of the Florida Fish Farm Association and their individual member farms are the source of many of the fish you find in your local aquarium store. 

The uses of those breeding and growth ponds are fascinating and could not possibly be complete until we discover where all those fish we see in our local pet store come from!

  Dr. Thomas R Reich, Ph.D. Ichthyologist takes us on a journey through the fascinating world of Florida Fish Farms.

We were given a rare opportunity to visit the tropical fish production facilities at Ekkwell Water Life Resources in Plant City just outside Tampa, Florida.  Ekkwell is the oldest active tropical fish farm in Florida and one of the centers of American tropical fish production.  Ekkwell is a well-known research destination to Ichthyologists like Dr. Reich.

Since its founding in 1962, Ekkwell has expanded to be one of the world’s largest pond fish farm grower and shipper of freshwater tropical fish, globally distributing over 100 tons of livestock cargo monthly, helping make live tropical fish the #1 item shipping air freight at Tampa’s International Airport.

This is a very private family business, employing over 60 of the top professionals in agriculture production and pet industry distribution specialists working with the pond fish farm.

Many things we were exposed to are trade secrets and have never been seen outside the gates of this vast complex of pond fish nurseries, we thank the Hennessey Family for their generosity in sharing these intriguing sights!

Ekkwell, in fact, occupies over 450 acres of rearing ponds and over 1,000,000 square feet of indoor breeding and hatchery facilities in their pond fish farm facility.

Owner of Ekkwell, Jack Hennessey is very proud that Ekkwell Water life Resources has been awarded over 275 professional and Pet Industry awards, including, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year, US Chamber of Commerce Blue Chip Enterprise Award, US Chamber of Commerce Florida Small Business of the Year, and the US Commissioner of Agriculture Environmental Leadership Award, to name a few.

Dr. Thomas R. Reich explains that there are many types of breeding methods used in a commercial pond fish farm and very specialized methods and equipment used to produce the millions of fry needed to supply the never ending demand for high quality, healthy tropical fish for the home aquarium.

The job of the farm is far from over when the eggs hatch, months of work tending to the pond fish farm and years of experience and expertise combine to develop the tropical aquarium fish that will eventually be shipped and sold in retailers around the world to eager hobbyists.

Many of the babies are moved into the biologically rich outdoor ponds, which can be used to rear the young fish just about year round here in South Florida.  After 8 weeks to almost 6 months, depending on the fish species, they are “harvested” through a process known as raking, which is done by hand in the ponds of the fish farm with 2 men and a special “raking Net”.

Up to hundreds of thousands of fish are harvested out of each of the 450 ponds in staggered intervals.  The fish are then collected and put in special vats on a custom truck and transported back to the indoor facility’s acclimation vats, the first step on their long journey to your local pet store!

After several weeks of acclimation to aquarium type water conditions, the fish are conditioned and graded for color and size.  Then they are “picked” by individual workers who carefully net the fish out of the holding tanks and transfer them into bags which have been medicated and super oxygenated for the long trip to your local pet store.

The individual bags (each fish type and size are in individual bags) are packed into large styrofoam containers.  Depending on season and weather conditions, a heating pad or cooling pack is added to the box to control temperature.

The styrofoam box is sealed inside a ridged cardboard box, addressed, posted and picked up by truck, taken to the airport, transferred to plane, flown to your nearest airport, then by truck to your aquarium store, where they are carefully unpacked and floated in the sales aquariums for at least 20-30 minutes.  The fish will then be for sale 24 hours later giving them time to acclimate after their long trip. 

But remember, every common aquarium fish in your community aquarium has been born, raised and prepared for you in this manner.  They have all made this long trip, and they all deserve our respect and care to make their lives as comfortable as we can once they reach their final home in our homes!

Ekkwell Water Life Resources is only one of the many uses of Florida pond fish farms.  Dr. Thomas R. Reich encourages you to contact Florida Fish Farm Association for news and information on the industry.