Make us your home page

Freeze guts tropical fish stocks

Freezing winter weather dealt a devastating blow to some of southern Hillsborough County's tropical fish farms, with seven losing more than half their stock.

Statewide, about 25 percent of the industry's inventory died after temperatures dropped in early January, the Florida Tropical Fish Farms Association said. Farms in Hillsborough and Polk counties make up about 80 percent of the state's $49-million industry.

"It was the worst weather event that the tropical fish industry's had in a while," said Tim Hennessy, president of EkkWill Waterlife Resources in Gibsonton. "But it took some time afterwards for people to really realize the impact of it."

Days after temperatures dropped, dead fish started floating to the surface and birds began to feast.

"Sometimes you don't know until you clean the pond and find there's nothing there," said Art Rawlins, the president of the Florida Tropical Fish Farms Association.

On his 27-acre farm in Lithia, Rawlins estimates hundreds of thousands of fish died in the freeze. That's about $200,000 and 60 percent of his inventory — a loss significant enough to qualify for federal aid provided to smaller farms through the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

Losses in Hillsborough County could be up to $3-million, said Donald Royster, executive director of the Hillsborough County Farm Service Agency, which administers the program here. Farmers get about 50 percent of the average market price for their losses, he said.

In most cases, Royster said, farmers reporting losses raised fish in uncovered ponds.

Methods like raising fish in greenhouses or covering ponds with plastic are too costly for some types of fish, Hennessy said.

Pumping water into ponds is a common method of fighting the cold. But this year, some fish farmers in De Soto County found themselves competing with citrus farmers for a dwindling water supply.

"We couldn't get the water we needed out of the ground to keep the fish warm," Hennessy said.

At EkkWill, which owns more than 170 acres in Hillsborough and De Soto counties and ships fish to small and large retailers all over the world, more than 1-million fish died. Feeder guppies and algae-eating plecostomus were hardest hit. Hennessy estimates the loss at $100,000.

But not all farms saw significant impact.

Damage depended on the farm's location, the depth of ponds and the types of protective covering used.

"Some had zero and some had a 90 to 95 percent loss. It was hit and miss," said David Boozer, executive director of the state association.

Hillsborough has been a home for tropical fish farming since the 1930s.

The area's typically warm weather makes it ideal for raising tropical fish, and Tampa International Airport provides a convenient way to transport them.

Even for fish farmers who weathered the recent freeze, however, times are tough.

"It's slow," said Bruce Kraus, owner of Bruce Kraus Tropicals in Wimauma. "Nobody's spending any money."

Despite recent local declines in the fish supply, prices are not expected to rise because farmers and suppliers must compete with imports. Aquaculture in Hillsborough County suffered a $7-million drop in sales between 2005 and 2006, according to county statistics.

But Rawlins, who started his Lithia farm in 1968, said business will bounce back, like it has in years past when freezes and hurricanes struck.

"That's part of farming. You just can't let it make you bitter," he said. "You just suck it up and get prepared for the next one."

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at or (813) 661-2454.

Freeze guts tropical fish stocks 03/07/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 7, 2008 9:50am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pinellas licensing board asks Sen. Jack Latvala for $500,000 loan

    Local Government

    The troubled Pinellas County agency that regulates contractors wants Sen. Jack Latvala to help it get a $500,000 lifeline from the state to stay afloat.

    State Sen . Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, is being asked to help the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board get $500,000 from the state so it can stay open beyond February.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  3. Tampa Club president seeks assessment fee from members


    TAMPA — The president of the Tampa Club said he asked members last month to pay an additional assessment fee to provide "additional revenue." However, Ron Licata said Friday that the downtown business group is not in a dire financial situation.

    Ron Licata, president of the Tampa Club in downtown Tampa. [Tampa Club]
  4. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion


    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  5. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]