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Wisconsin Aquaculture Industry Grows
  • Feb 4, 2016


When it comes to farming, fish aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. But, did you know that fish farming, or aquaculture, is the fastest growing food production system globally? 

The state of Wisconsin currently has about 2,600 aquaculture farms. They raise fish for a variety of purposes including stocking ponds, providing a local food source, or, in the case of Hayward Bait, providing fish for their customers.

Those who have driven near Hayward might have noticed a series of approximately one-acre ponds. Unlike others in the area, they are designed to grow bait. 

The latest figures show that nearly $5 million in bait fish were raised in Wisconsin. An additional $4.5 million in trout were raised with $3 million in game fish and $900,000 in other fish as a food source. Combined, the industry pumps about $21 million into Wisconsin’s economy.

The initial motivator for Hayward Bait was to ensure they had the supply they needed to continue growing their business. 

“I started this to manage my supply line,” Hayward Bait Shop owner Terry Hogan said. “It was becoming harder to get a constant supply of what I needed for my business.” 

The shop, which was started in 1959 by Hogan’s grandfather, has a long-time history both in providing bait locally and as a wholesaler. To ensure they could continue to guarantee product to both their patrons and wholesale customers, they started toying with the idea of aquaculture.

“We started small about seven years ago to meet our needs,” Hogan explained. Today, that number has grown quite substantially. “We’re currently at 23 ponds, with each pond over one acre in size.” They also have a 2,300-square-foot fish hatchery.

By farming their own fish, Hogan says they can control the timing and quality of their product. This, combined with their strong customer service and controlling costs, provides a solid base for doing business throughout the region. Despite their success, Hogan is quick to say that this growth didn’t come without a lot of work. 

“This is an extremely difficult industry. There is not a lot of information or a lot of answers, so it was difficult at times to figure it out. You end up killing a lot of fish while learning the process,” he said.

A research facility based in Northwestern Wisconsin focuses on assisting folks like Hogan while providing information to the industry as a whole. The University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility is located just outside of Bayfield. The facility, which has been there since 2006, focuses on researching best practices on raising species more efficiently and effectively while being as sustainable as possible. Their clients include federal and state organizations, the Department of Natural Resources, private corporations and individual fish farmers. Right now, the three-person team is working with eight species on 10 projects.

“We know that over half the seafood in the world is raised in aquaculture,” Outreach Specialist Emma Wiermaa said. “This industry helps meet the public demand for fish while being a primarily green business.”

In part, this is because the fish are raised in a closed containment system, which means that 90 to 95 percent of the water can be reused. To take this one step further, utilizing the science known aquaponics, the waste from fish can help to grow plants. A similar process is being used in Silver Bay.

“This is becoming more popular in urban areas. The idea of being able to grow both a vegetable and protein is huge,” Wiermaa said.

While they do not focus on aquaponics specifically, they are using their knowledge to assist area schools in developing science programs. By doing so, they hope to spark interest among high school students about a new and emerging green industry that has a growing workforce shortage.

“We have a 90 percent success rate in placing interns in a job in this field within one year,” Weirmaa said. 

Recognizing the potential for the industry and the unique opportunity northwest Wisconsin has with the UW’s Stevens Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility, the Bayfield County Economic Corp. has provided money to help the Bayfield and Washburn school districts purchase supplies and provide field training for students in aquaponics courses.

As more and more training is provided and the industry evolves, Hogan is hopeful that things will become more streamlined. 

“It is a difficult industry right now. There are many obstacles to overcome, making it difficult to make the financials work,” Hogan said.

Despite this challenge, he said this industry is vital, especially in an area that relies heavily on fishing and tourism. 

“It is important to raise fish versus always harvesting them from the wild. By doing so, you are growing fish from eggs that wouldn’t have hatched otherwise, which puts less strain on the ecosystem. All of this plays a role in helping the environment and our local tourism industry.”

Beth Probst is a freelance writer based in Iron River.



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