‘Just like a feedlot underwater’
By BILLIE SHELTON
ELLSWORTH – “This is just like a feedlot underwater,” said Paul Skartvedt, as he gestured toward rows of huge fish tanks that are inside a new aquaculture facility on the edge of Ellsworth near Interstate 35. What looks like a long row of greenhouses is four acres under roof. The two halves of each building are 360 feet wide and 550 feet long.
Actually, it is a very large greenhouse, according to Skartvedt, only instead of soil and green plants what’s growing there is fish.
About six months ago the first fish were delivered to the building, which took eighteen months to erect. Those tiny fish, called fry, weigh about a half-gram and are smaller than a fingernail. Some 50,000 of them are delivered to the Ellsworth plant from Louisiana every two weeks. As they grow and reach fingerling stage, after about three months the fish are taken from the nursery to finisher tanks until they reach two pounds and are ready to market.
Eagle’s Catch is the newest business in the Ellsworth Industrial Park. Skartvedt,, president of the board, is one of 55 investors in the business. He estimated that 90 percent of the investors are Iowans, the others from South Dakota and Minnesota. When searching for a place to locate Eagle’s Catch, “we wanted to keep it local,” noted Skartvedt, who lives nearby.
“Iowa Rural Development worked with us to find a site, and this was a great fit,” he continued. “The city of Ellsworth has been very good to us. It’s a very good partnership, and we’re really glad to be here. There’s good water quality and a good wastewater system.” Revenue from electricity, sewer, and water sales to Eagle’s Catch goes to the city.
The Ellsworth site was attractive because land was available and because of its proximity to interstate 35.
Skartvedt said he appreciates the local workforce. “We have good staff who work hard for us,” he stated. “The nice thing about being here is that most of our employees have worked with livestock, and we do some training with them on fish stuff. They do a good job for us.” Currently Eagle’s Catch has 13 employees, with that number expected to grow to 15-17 through upcoming construction to finish the interior of the building.
Why tilapia? “It’s good because of it’s hardiness and because it’s well known,” Skartvedt answered, adding that the company plans to market fresh fish, not frozen. “We’re getting big enough now to get the attention of wholesalers and retailers.”
Although he’s not willing to say that aquaculture is the future of agriculture in Iowa, Skartvedt does believe there is a place for it in agri-business.
“Fish farming hasn’t been done in Iowa on this scale before,” he said. “We can take learning from other livestock groups around here, because this is just like any other livestock in Iowa.”
And, yes, he is excited about being so close to having a product to market after a long time in planning, development and construction.
“Lots of people are intrigued by this because it’s new,” he noted. “We will eat the same protein coming out of this facility as our neighbors are.
“We can show you how our fish are raised,” Skartvedt went on. “This is an open book to show how we raise our fish.”
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