Fish farmers forced to wait on research center

December 03, 1996


Staff Writer

LEETOWN, W.Va. - State agriculture and economic development officials learned Tuesday that a new $12 million federal aquaculture research center to be built in Leetown won't be ready to serve state fish farmers until well after the turn of the century.

"That's unreal," groused Gus Douglass, West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture. The center is needed now to support the Mountain State's fast-growing aquaculture industry, said Douglass, adding that, "It's taking too long."

There are two commercial fish farmers in the Eastern Panhandle, both in Jefferson County, according to Richard Bohn, executive director of the National Aquaculture Association. No estimates were available on the number of operations statewide.


The center will open early in 2001 next to the Science Center, said Henry S. Parker, national program leader for the Agriculture Department's Agricultural Research Service.

Douglass and Moses Zegeer of the West Virginia Development Office were among the state officials briefed Tuesday at the Leetown Science Center by a delegation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture about progress on the National Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture Research Center.

Work on the design for the center will begin in January and take more than a year to complete, Parker said.

Tuesday's briefing was set up by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd's office. Byrd got the first $6 million for the project through Congress and promised to come through with the rest, according to a release from his office. Byrd did not attend Tuesday's briefing.

"There are tremendous possibilities for the growth of a vital aquaculture industry in West Virginia," Byrd said in the release. "The ponds and abandoned mine sites across our state are exceptionally well suited to fish farming. However, there is little research on fish farming in the temperate waters found throughout the Appalachian region. This facility, by focusing on research in cool and cold water, will be the first of its kind in the nation."

According to the Agriculture Department, catfish farming in the South increased from 137 million pounds in 1983 to more than 439 million pounds in 1994. Pen-raised salmon production increased 36 percent in 1995 over the previous year.

Per-capita fish consumption in the U.S. climbed from 12.5 pounds in 1980 to 15 pounds in 1995, and population growth will increase the demand for seafood by 1.4 million tons by the year 2000.

Increasing the nation's aquaculture industry will help protect natural, commercial species from over-fishing, Parker said.

The new center will have a 30,000-square-foot laboratory and office building and a 10,000-square-foot wet laboratory and tank building. Officials did not know how many people would be employed there.

Water will be available from several sources at the Leetown Science Center, Parker said.

The government is negotiating for the contiguous 215-acre Link farm, which would bring its Leetown holdings to more than 675 acres, he said.

The purchase also will help to maintain control over the watershed supplying the science center, officials said.

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