GOSHEN — At a farmer’s market, you can usually chat with the person who grew your tomato. Kevin Boyer and Vince DelPrete, owners of Northern Indiana Aquaproducts in Goshen, hope that you can soon chat with the people who raised your fish, too.
Boyer and DelPrete, both residents of Elkhart County, have been raising tilapia in a small warehouse on West Wilden Avenue since 2010. Recently, they added shrimp and moved to a larger building on the same property. The new building has three times the space for fish tanks. In just a few weeks, they plan to also start raising Australian red claw crayfish. Most of the seafood is sold wholesale to live fish haulers who take the fish to cities like Chicago and Detroit. But the men believe that there’s a market to sell fish to Elkhart County residents.
“We want to sell local, because we want the local people to support this,” DelPrete said during an interview at Northern Indiana Aquaproducts on Monday, Aug. 26.
The desire to sell locally is part of the reason there are now shrimp swimming in the tanks.
“The shrimp was all about retail — that was to bring people in,” Boyer said, adding jokingly, “The shrimp are basically going to be the Cadillac in the showroom.”
Boyer and DelPrete want Northern Indiana Aquaproducts to be open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights for locals who want to stop by and pick out a fish or two for dinner. There are a few roadblocks to that plan right now. The building, both inside and out, isn’t quite ready for a steady flow of retail customers. Boyer and DelPrete said the city of Goshen requires the parking lot to be paved before retail sales can happen. That will probably happen by October, they added.
Although they were having their fish butchered and the fillets sent to local restaurants at one point, the men said this is no longer happening. It’s more economical, they said, to sell the whole fish.
But what’s the difference between the fish produced at Northern Indiana Aquaproducts and the fish you can buy at the grocery store?
Boyer and DelPrete believe that the taste and texture of their fish is much better than imported fish.
“The fish taste better because they aren’t eating algae, like they would be in a typical pond (raising) method,” Boyer explained. “Because (the fish) are grown in a recirculating aquaculture system, you have complete control over what the fish ingest.”
The fish are also never frozen, said Boyer, which improves the texture of the meat.
How it works
Boyer and DelPrete agreed that most of the work at the fish farm was in setting up the massive water tanks and getting plumbing for the warehouse worked out. Now, they said, maintaining the tilapia is fairly simple.
They get a shipment of 10,000 to 12,000 tilapia fry from Colorado to start out one growing cycle. These baby fish go into a small tank. As they grow, they are moved to different tanks until they are ready to be harvested, at about 1.5 pounds. The men order 98 percent male fry, they said, because males on their own will eat more and grow faster. Once you put female fish into the mix, they explained, the males won’t eat as much because they have other priorities.
Boyer and DelPrete feed the fish and check on the water quality twice a day — DelPrete takes the morning shift and Boyer arrives in the afternoon. Both men have other jobs and aren’t able to work full-time at the farm. They hope to eventually grow enough to support hiring employees. Using their current setup, Boyer and DelPrete predict they could sell 35,000 pounds of fish in a year.
A plan to raise plants using the wastewater from the fish tanks is still on the table, the two said. But it’s being put off for now because the move to a new building was expensive.
“It’s just been a constant learning experience,” Boyer said of the farm. “There’s certain things we’ve found along the last 2 1/2 years. As time goes on, you learn.”
Fish farming popular in Indiana
In the beginning of August 2013, the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service reported that fish farming in Indiana is booming. According to the report, there are now 50 fish farms in Indiana compared to 18 in 2006.
DelPrete said the growth of the industry is likely caused by a statewide focus on agriculture. He pointed out that Indiana is a major producer of animal feed. Fish farms provide another animal that consumes soybean-based feed, he said.
Boyer and DelPrete give tours on Saturdays to people interested in the aquaculture process. The two said they hope the facility will become a tourist attraction for Elkhart County.