Little River Trails Aquaculture Addresses Demands for Fish Consumption and Declining Flounder Populations

By Brian Slesinski

Chicken and turkey farms abound in the south and are big business in North Carolina. North Carolina is ranked #3 nationally in Total Poultry Production, an industry worth an annual 3.3 billion dollars. But all is not well in the poultry industry. Since the economic downturn began in 2008 many North Carolina poultry farmers have lost their contracts and are struggling to survive. Converting their farms to fish farms may pardon the expression “kill two birds with one stone.”

Fish demand has been on the rise because fish and fishery products represent a valuable source of protein and essential micronutrients for balanced nutrition and good health. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) worldwide per-capita fish consumption is expected to rise 16 percent higher than the average level for 2009-2011 by 2021, and world trade of fish for human consumption is expected to expand by 25 percent from 2012-2021. Our oceans may not be able to sustain this demand. Larry Lanier and Robin Sanderson, operators of Little River Trails Aquaculture in Bunnlevel North Carolina have a financially viable solution.

Lanier and Sanderson have converted four poultry houses into a large scale fish farm. They are growing flounder and hybrid striped bass for high end restaurants. The conversion of these poultry houses was an energy-efficient project. The interior of the buildings are coated with foam insulation. The flow of water is accomplished with energy-efficient pumps, the lights are energy-efficient, and the heating and cooling system is geo-thermal. One of the four houses is a nursery and three are called “grow out” houses.

Lanier and Sanderson understand the science of growing these fish. In simple terms, the eggs hatch in smaller tanks and are raised to about an inch long. During the first two weeks after hatching the flounder are “so small that they have to eat live organisms for the first two weeks after they hatch,” Sanderson said. Sanderson grows all the food in the environment created inside the fish farm.
Farming flounder as a source of food for the market is one facet of this jewel. Raising flounder for stock enhancement would help address the problem of declining flounder populations that suffer from overfishing and habitat degradation. Tim Barefoot, a Coastal Angler Magazine/ The Angler Magazine columnist and co-chair of the N.C. Recreational Fishing Alliance hopes to see this and other farms become part of such a stock enhancement program. Barefoot chairs the Flat Bottom Girls Flounder tournament to obtain mature flounder for breeding purposes. The flounder are bred at the aquaculture center at the University of North Carolina’s Wilmington campus. Fish raised from this project have been released into the wild as a pilot project in hopes that this will become a large scale program. With the changing dynamics as the North Carolina Wildlife Resources commission gains control of the Division of Marine Fisheries, stock enhancement is likely to become a high priority in North Carolina.

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