Commissioner's Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award
Aquatica Tropicals, Inc.
Plant City, Florida
Raising fish has always been a big part of Marty Tanner’s life. He started working on a fish farm at age 20, and just six years later began in the fish farming business for himself on eight acres east of Plant City. Marty and his wife, Sue, expanded that farm and purchased a second one, a 13-acre facility in Lakeland. Today, his company, Aquatica Tropicals, Inc., is a high-tech, ornamental aquaculture production facility using state-of-the art technology with facilities in Plant City, Lakeland, and a new one under construction in Ruskin. Between the three sites, the company currently is producing and marketing 150,000 to 200,000 fish a week.
Even with its impressive growth, the company is still run as a family business, with the Tanners overseeing the day-to-day operation while their children help out during summers and on school holidays. The company’s 20 employees are also treated like family and take great pride in their work.
“The single key element to our success is the people who work for us,” Tanner said. “They are responsible, conscientious, and hard working. We think of them as coworkers rather than just employees.”
Another reason for Aquatica Tropicals’ success has been its use of indoor facilities to breed and raise fish. On the Plant City farm, Tanner constructed a 12,000-square-foot building that produces as many fish as 30 acres of outdoor pond culture. Working indoors also allows the creation of a controlled environment that reduces the danger of weather damage, so for example, when the freezes of 2001 caused fish farm losses near 80 percent in Central Florida, the indoor facilities at Aquatica Tropical were essentially unaffected.
The Plant City facility has a heating and cooling system that controls water temperature and a water recirculating system that continually cleans and reuses more than two million gallons of water each day. The use of such a closed system eliminates potential pollution from surface or ground water while also dramatically reducing the need for ground water pumping. The system also saves labor in an industry that is labor intensive, and allows Aquatica Tropicals to use less than half the labor of a conventional fish farm. Still another benefit of indoor fish rearing is the elimination of losses to wading bird predation, which is a severe problem in outdoor pond culture.
Most of Tanner’s innovative practices are not regulatory requirements, but a combination of business sense and environmental conscience.
“Although I like to think of myself as a viable business person, I’m also very environmentally sensitive,” Tanner said. “Seven or eight years ago, we were in a drought situation and not able to water lawns or wash cars, and I asked myself ‘How can I morally use the amount of water we are using to produce fish?’ The decision to go to the recirculation technology was as much a moral issue as a business decision.”
Even more far-reaching than their local environmental practices are programs entered into with the University of Florida and other research facilities. Aquatica Tropicals has assisted in the pioneering of new spawning techniques that allow the reproduction of the popular neon tetra fish on local farms, an operation that replaces the practice of wild capturing, thus eliminating most of the stress and diseases that affect wild-captured fish. Producing locally grown fish also removes the threat of reducing wild tetra populations in their native countries.
“There is always a certain amount of loss associated with harvesting fish from the wild,” Tanner said. “From both an economic and environmental standpoint, if we can do the research, do the reproductive physiology work, and provide the means to produce the fish internally instead of taking them from the wild, the aquarium industry is going to be better for it.”
In addition to running Aquatica Tropicals, Tanner helps the industry by serving on several advisory boards and committees. He is president of the Florida Aquaculture Association; a member of the Hillsborough Community College’s Aquaculture Education Advisory Committee; on the advisory board of the Southern Regional Aquaculture Center; on the board of the Florida Sea Grant IAC; and chairman of the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Lab Advisory Committee. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau.
Aquatica Tropicals regularly offers tours to legislators, environmental regulators, school groups, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts. The company also participates in their community’s school activities by sponsoring students and donating to fund-raising events.
Tanner’s view of the future of the Florida fish industry is rich with potential, including the use of his state of the art fish producing facilities to branch into the biotech industry by growing strains of fish to be used in areas of advanced medical research.
“When you look at our industry in general, and at the ornamental industry in particular, we can better ourselves by raising a better quality fish, by raising a better quality product line, and by being more competitive in the marketplace,” Tanner said. “The industry will benefit, and the environment will benefit. It will be a win-win situation for everybody.” -- 2003
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- 2003 Agricultural Environmental Leadership Awards Booklet (PDF)
- Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award Nomination (PDF)