EkkWill Waterlife Resources
Headquartered in Gibsonton, EkkWill Waterlife Resources is the largest tropical fish producer in the world, raising more than 1,000 tropical species and shipping more than 6 million fish a month.
The company, founded by Tim, Sherry and Mike Hennessey, now employs 125 people. Its facilities include four locations in three Central Florida counties, encompassing 1,500 ponds on 375 acres.
Tropical fish have become the nation's second most popular hobby, next to photography. Ninety-five percent of the tropical fish grown in the United States are grown in Florida. Shipments of these fish and aquatic plants ftom Florida totaled $61 million in 1995 -- more than double the shipments of just five years earlier.
Growing rapidly since its beginnings as a small farming operation, EkkWill is now considered a state-of-the-art operation acclaimed for its production, resource conservation and water re-use techniques. Recognizing that water conservation would become a key issue in a booming West-Central Florida, the company took the lead by initiating the development of water management systems before they were mandated. As a result, EkkWill's facilities and methods have been studied by state and national regulatory agencies and embraced as best management practices for use in rule development.
One of these water-saving measures is the re-use of large volumes of water ftom the fish ponds. After the fish are harvested, the pond is drained, sediments are washed ftom it, and lime is spread over the dirt bottom to ready it for the next crop. In order to drain, the pond water is pumped into a nearby retention ditch. The long, elevated ditch acts as a natural filter by allowing sediments to settle. Gradually, the water level in the ditch lowers as the ponds fill back up through seepage.
The company also utilizes indoor water reuse systems, resulting in the recovery, cleaning and redistribution of more than 1.5 million gallons of water a day.
Tropical fish are the largest single air freight item out of Tampa. The sheer volume of shipments, coupled with the critical need to quickly transport ftagile living creatures, presents a logistics challenge. Careful handling is paramount at EkkWill. At no time during harvesting -ftom the pond, to the truck, to the vat room -- is the water's temperature allowed to change by more than 2 degrees. Temperature constancy minimizes stress and ensures a healthy fish ready for market.
In the hatchery, spectacular new varieties are being created using the latest techniques in genetics, hybridization, artificial insemination and selective breeding. Fish that have never been commercially bred in captivity are being spawned in EkkWill's labs.
The company donates fish and consultation services to many universities and research institutes. EkkWill's particular genetic populations have become standard laboratory test animals -- the "white mice" of the 1990s. Frequent collaboration and donations continue with NASA, as well as various departments within the Universities of California, Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Duke and others. EkkWill also advises many aquariums and hobby groups.