Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Caribe Fisheries Inc. Visit

Today I took a quick visit to Caribe Fisheries in Lajas. With the problems involved with growing fresh food I have been looking into hydroponics which led to looking at aquaponics when a blog reader mentioned a class on St. Croix. I sent my deposit for the course which is in June. Before I go there for the week long class I want to have a good idea of what kind of system I want to set up and want to compile a list of concerns/questions to make sure this will be a good choice for our purposes - making food. My concerns are 1) will it work with our solar system 2) insect problems 3) how do you pollinate if your garden is screened in 3) how large does the system have to be 4) how about growing shrimp? There are other concerns but these are a few. People we know know that this is an interest of ours and at a party last weekend we met Michael McGee who is running the tropical aquaculture farm called Caribe Fisheries Inc. in Lajas. I asked if I could come out to see what he was up to and he generously took some time with me today. (thanks Mike). As a bonus, he went to school with the guy teaching the St. Croix class and is very familiar with the system he uses/teaches. With the reading I have done I think I will end up with kind of a hybrid system of some sort so I was very interested in what Mike is doing since it differs from what I will learn about in June.

Since he is selling Basa (a type of catfish) his system is far larger than anything we will do but it is always good to get information and see ideas in action. A large part of his business is selling fish to pet stores - koi, fresh water tropicals, catfish and numerous other fish I couldn't identify. The food fish part of the business involves sales mainly to restaurants and stores in San Juan. The St. Croix farm raises Tilapia which is a flaky white fish but not my favorite fish and I am interested in how the Basa tastes and holds up when frozen. He raises fish to sell as stock and if I like Basa better I may well be purchasing fingerlings from him. Maybe I'll do a combination of Tilapia and Basa...hmmm. When Jeff and I were talking to him at the party he kept mentioning how Lajas was perfect for fish farming and I just didn't get it. Now that I have visited, I understand why. When the fish are of a certain size they are put out into ponds simply dug into the ground. Since there is a high clay content in the soil there is no need for liners etc so it is a simpler type set up. This is one of many ponds on the 14 acres.

He has numerous tanks as nurseries, for breeding, for stock of different sizes and type. These tanks are 500 gallons each and are commercial water tanks with the tops cut off.

There are a series of other kind of growing areas where fish hang out and grow larger before they go out into the ponds (Basa and maybe Koi? Not sure about Koi) and other fish go into a wall of aquariums.

What I was most interested in was the vegetable area. Instead of a closed system where the vegetables are grown hydroponically, his system is open (he has the option to have it run closed) and the fish water is piped out to his culantro beds. This open system allows any additional fertilizing or insect control (he doesn't have problems with insects) to be done separate from the fish system which simplifies that. With a closed system you cannot use fertilizer or even soap control on the veggies unless you want to kill your fish! There are some advantages to this. Also, since the culantro (could be other veggies) is grown in soil you have more choice of what can grow but you have to work around the soil problems of soil compacting etc. Hydroponics in just water lets you grow mainly greens, and adding expanded sand media allows you to grow some root vegetables, and soil gives even more options. His beds are on drip irrigation so he can vary the watering depending on weather. His system uses very little energy to produce fish and veggies and most everything is recycled. The fish food contains very little fish meal (mainly soy and corn), the water is all used to grow things and solid waste gets composted and reused. There isn't any energy spent on packaging and shipping and trucking...he sells primarily local. Puerto Rico should be doing this rather than buying 85% of its food from other places! What would be even better would be if other byproduct water he has could be dumped onto other crops on the rest of the land (water from draining ponds etc). There is only so much you can take on though.

So tonight we will eat some fresh (as in scooped up and killed on the visit) Basa and see if we like the texture/taste. I will fillet and freeze another fish to see how it holds up and consider this as an option for our system. There were many good ideas here. What we will be doing will be less extensive of course, but to be able to have someone take some time to share what he knows was wonderful and appreciated! I think we will end up making a hybrid system using the best ideas of the several methods I know about - it is really fun thinking about how to design this!. Oh - if you want Koi for your own pond, fresh fish to eat, or are thinking of an aquarium in the house he is the guy to call! He has a website and his contact information is there. He isn't far off of highway 2 so if you want fresh Basa head out that way. Tomorrow I'll report back on how we like the fish...


Wil said...

This is such a thoughtful interesting blog, and this entry is a wealth of information. Really love your plant pictures too. I am trying to learn about tropical fruits and sustanable living. Thanks!

jb said...

Interesting post. I'll be coming back to read the verdict on the Basa. Don't suppose you took any pictures of the tropical fish he raises for the pet trade?

Anonymous said...

Wil - thanks for the in Puerto Rico there is no reason why this can't be done.

JB - We have always had salt water fish so I'm not sure what he has other than cichlids, koi, and catfish. Go to his website and give him a call... katrina