Ruskin lab helps Florida with tropical fish breeding program

The University of Florida's Aquaculture Lab in Ruskin is a farm-to-fish tank operation.

"There's probably closing in somewhere 50 to 100 different species I would say have been cultured at the lab, easily some of those are fish that have never been cultured before," said University of Florida Assistant Professor Matthew DiMaggio.

The work is funded by the Rising Tide Conservation Fund involving SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.

"To figure out how do we grow these fish in a culture setting, how do we get them from egg to a market size so that we have a cultured product available", said DiMaggio.

It takes a village to raise these fish.

"We have approximately 100 producers in the state concentrated in Hillsborough and Polk County. They supply a large number of ornamental fish that you find in local retail stores," said DiMaggio.

A lab creates the food for the fish.

"We want to create a well-mixed diet so that the copepods are really nutritious then the larval fish can eat the very nutritious food", said Sarah Hutchins, a biological scientist.

"We're talking about eggs that are smaller than one millimeter in size and baby fish that are usually one to two meters," said DiMaggio.

The effort could greatly benefit local fish farmers.  

"There's a lot of competition with imports coming from other countries and we're trying to innovate here and give the Florida farmer the advantage of producing for example products like a blue tang that may not be available from another supplier or from an import," said DiMaggio.

Innovation in farm-raised tropical fish also has advantages for consumers, as the various species seem to thrive in fish tanks.

"Their entire lives have been in a culture setting they're used to accepting a prepared diet," said DiMaggio.

Researchers say they would encourage people shopping for fish to ask their pet stores about cultured alternatives.